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South Africa Maps Strategy for TB Fight

David Mametja of South African Department of Health speaks in Johannesburg at the launch of Global TB Vaccine Road map, March 20, 2012.
David Mametja of South African Department of Health speaks in Johannesburg at the launch of Global TB Vaccine Road map, March 20, 2012.
Delia Robertson

A global strategy to develop safe and effective tuberculosis vaccines over the coming decade was unveiled in South Africa this week.

The new plan establishes international worldwide research targets for the next 10 years, with the goal of having safe and effective vaccines ready for production by 2022.

Each year there are about nine million new cases of TB and 1.4 million deaths. The disease often occurs in people who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, due to their compromised immune systems. And in recent years strains of TB have emerged that are increasingly multi-drug resistant.

David Memetja, who is responsible for TB control and management at the South African Department of Health, told journalists the solution lies in finding a vaccine.

“The solution is really in preventing TB, and in that regard the announced TB vaccine blueprint we believe is part of the important solution in terms of minimizing the risk of TB in the country,” he said.

Memetja says South Africa is at the epicenter of the global TB pandemic.

“So in fact if you take our incidence rate, which currently stands at almost 1,000 [infections] per 100,000 people, so adjusting for our population size we actually rank first in the world among the 22 countries that account for 80 percent of the world’s TB burden,” said Memetja.

Gavin Churcyard, chief executive of the Aurum Institute, an independent, public-benefit organization that focuses on TB and HIV, says the work going on in South Africa is an important part of the effort to control TB.

“South Africa researchers are playing a leading role internationally in development and evaluation of new TB drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines," said Churcyard. "Recently a national plan for an HIV vaccine was launched, and there are plans to launch a national plan for TB based on the [TB vaccine] blueprint.”

Hassan Mahomed, team leader at the South Africa TB Vaccine Initative at the University of Cape Town, says most of the vaccine trials under way are being done in this country.

“There are five research institutions around South Africa that are actively involved in clinical trials of new TB vaccines," he said. "Of the 12 TB vaccines that are being actively tested at the moment, six of them are being tested in South Africa.”

Mahomed says it also is important that local researchers are working together with nine institutions across the African continent in a collaborative effort to find new vaccines.

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