Stellenbosch University wins R40m grant to fight HIV in rural areas

Stellenbosch University in South Africa has been awarded R40 million (approximately $2.7 million USD) to develop HIV-prevention strategies for rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The five-year project, funded by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, will be led by Frank Tanser, a recent appointment to the university’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.

The research, titled “The changing face of HIV in the era of COVID-19: Maximising HIV incidence reduction through dynamic targeting of current and future distributions of acquisition risk," will involve scientists from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), the University of Lincoln, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Washington, New York University, and the University of Cincinnati.

The team will use data collected from their HIV surveillance site in rural South Africa, which is one of the few places in the world where dynamic changes in the burden of new HIV infections can be accurately measured. Recent research from Tanser showed a 43% reduction in new HIV infections in rural areas, but events such as COVID-19 have the potential to shift the burden of unsuppressed viral load and new HIV infections.

The team expects that the shift to Dolutegravir-based regimens, a new antiretroviral medication used to control HIV infection, will decrease rates of HIV incidence and that the median age of acquisition of HIV infection will shift to older age groups.

“Existing intervention strategies will therefore need to evolve to keep up with the changing dynamics of the epidemic,” said Tanser. “We have a fantastic team in place and I'm confident that the findings from this work will allow us to take HIV prevention strategies to the next level and ultimately to make a massive difference to local populations who are still at high risk of infection from this terrible disease."

Tanser, who was recently appointed as Director of Population Health Innovation, holds honorary professorships at University College London, Monash University Malaysia, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has published over 250 papers in high-ranking international journals, and his research has been cited over 34,000 times.


Article by RB Correspodent