A southern African nation that has been decimated by a quick-spreading subtype of the AIDS virus is now ground zero in the battle against it.
Dedication ceremonies for the new Botswana-Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory, a joint project sponsored by the Ministry of Health of Botswana and the Harvard AIDS Institute, were held last week in the city of Gaborone.
The laboratory is funded by a $4.9 million grant from Secure the Future, a research initiative of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Harvard, and the Government of Boswana. The laboratory will conduct research on subtype C of the HIV-1 virus, which is widespread in southern Africa, East Africa, and India.
In Botswana, as many as one in four adults and four of every ten pregnant women are infected with HIV. About a third of the babies born to infected women have the virus, and seventy-percent of those babies will die before their second birthday.
“The epidemic of HIV-1C that is blazing across southern Africa today is infecting a much larger fraction of local populations than are the other subtypes in other regions,” said Max Essex, chair of the Harvard AIDS Institute and the John Laporte Given Professor of Infectious Diseases in the Faculty of Public Health. “Its prevalence and its rapid spread suggest its greater potential for causing larger epidemics than any other HIV the world has experienced before.”
Researchers from the Harvard AIDS Institute will work with those at McGill University Center in Montreal to perform specific drug resistance testing of the HIV-1C virus before and after treatment. Patients enrolled in the Secure the Future program will receive free medications for the term of the study, and for as long as they are deemed medically appropriate. The value of medicines in the Botswana study is expected to top $13 million.
The laboratory will be situated at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone. “The Botswana-Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory will be a major addition to the medical infrastructure of Botswana and will make Princess Marina Hospital a center of HIV/AIDS excellence for the region,” according to Richard Marlink, executive director of the Harvard AIDS Institute.
“The new laboratory will provide scientists in Botswana with the resources to conduct state-of-the-art research,” Essex said. “Armed with this ability, they will help accelerate general understanding of subtype C and lead to ways to stop its rapid progress.”
The Harvard AIDS Institute, created in 1988, is dedicated to conducting and promoting research to end the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic. The institute is committed to finding solutions to the HIV epidemic in Africa and has created some of the longest-standing research collaborations on that continent.