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Leading AIDS Researcher Killed in Kenyan Carjacking


Friends and colleagues of a Kenya-based AIDS researcher, who was gunned down Sunday during a carjacking in the outskirts of Nairobi, say Africa has lost one of its most distinguished and accomplished scientists. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Nairobi reports.

Scientists involved in the research of the deadly AIDS disease describe Sunday's brutal killing of Dr. Job Bwayo as devastating.

The microbiologist had been the lead scientist in the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative trials at the University of Nairobi, a project aimed at finding a vaccine to protect people from HIV infection and the replication of the virus among those infected.

Of the more than 30 similar trials being conducted worldwide, Bwayo was overseeing at least two of them. His vaccine initiative also helped fund the building of East and Central Africa's first-ever, state-of-the-art HIV vaccine laboratory at Kenyatta National Hospital in the Kenyan capital.

Bwayo's colleagues say the vaccine research was about to enter a critical phase, when the scientist was shot and killed while driving on a road about 30-kilometers outside of Nairobi.

Rob Noble is a member of Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity-based in London. He says Bwayo's death is a blow to efforts at stemming the spread of the disease, which is estimated to have killed two million people last year in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

"The AIDS epidemic is expanding so quickly that eventually, it will outstrip our capacity to provide treatment to people. So, it is imperative we develop new prevention technologies, such as a vaccine," Noble said.

Dr. Carolyn Williamson at the University of Cape Town in South Africa says Bwayo played a critical role in advancing AIDS research to an important new level.

"A lot of his work was dedicated toward evaluating the safety of HIV vaccines," Williamson said. "His input was invaluable and certainly, his contribution was such that it will impact on the trials. His death will be not just a loss to Africa, but the whole international community."

Sunday's attack was the latest in a series of violent carjackings in and around the Kenyan capital, which have killed and wounded at least a dozen people in the past week.

The director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Davy Koech, says Dr. Bwayo appears to have been just another victim of opportunistic criminals.

"I think it is so sad because he was a prime mover and leader, having dedicated most of his life to HIV (research). This insecurity business must be put to a halt. We cannot continue wasting lives like this," Koech said.

Bwayo's wife and an unidentified American were also shot during the carjacking. They remain in critical condition in a Nairobi hospital.