WORLD AIDS DAY – THE NHLS WAY
27 November 2012 – As the world commemorates World Aids Day on the 1st of December, The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) increases focus on research and diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. This has led to many successes for the global war against HIV/AIDS.
After many years of thorough research, two of NHLS’ researchers announced a breakthrough in their research which has brought the world a step closer to that elusive HIV vaccine. Professor Lynn Morris, head of the NHLS’ National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) AIDS Research, and Dr Penny Moore, senior scientist in the NICD’s Centre for HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, were pivotal in the discovery that a weakness exists in the human immunodeficiency virus that enables certain people to produce potent antibodies which are able to kill up to 88% of strains of the virus from around the world.
The HIV epidemic remains a major global public health challenge, with more than 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In 2011 alone, 2.2 million people were newly infected with HIV and 1.7 million people died of AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most severely affected with nearly one in every 20 adults (4.9%) living with HIV and accounting for 69% of people living with HIV worldwide.
According to the report, South Africa increased its scale of HIV treatment by 75%, ensuring 1.7 million people had access to this life saving treatment. The NHLS, South Africa’s largest pathology diagnostic group, has made it their top priority to support the national Department of Health's fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge and has achieved a major advancement this year in the search for an HIV vaccine.
With its 268 laboratories countrywide, serving about 85% of the population, and employing world-renowned pathology researchers, the NHLS is in a position to develop strategies to support our country’s global aim of zero new HIV infections.
The NHLS is currently involved in various HIV surveillance programmes for the national Department of Health, namely: to evaluate the effectiveness of the national Prevention of Mother-to-child Transmission (PMTCT) programme and the Annual Antenatal HIV-1 Prevalence Survey. These surveys provide important information about the HIV epidemic in South Africa including the national prevalence of HIV in pregnant women, as well as the number of new HIV infections in South Africa over a given period.
The World AIDS Campaign has set the global theme for World AIDS Day from 2011–2015 as ‘Getting to Zero: Zero new infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths’. This theme is in line with Getting to Zero: UNAIDS strategy 2011–2011 and, as mentioned above, has also been adapted by the NSP 2012–2016 as its 20-year vision (with the addition of a fourth zero).
This year, the national event will take place in Potchefstroom at the Profert Olen Park Stadium, North West Province, where the NHLS will provide onsite CD4 and TB testing. The platform will provide the organisation an opportunity to showcase the GeneXpert equipment currently used for TB testing.
The GeneXpertTM MTB/Rif (GX) cassette-based molecular test was introduced in the NHLS to improve the diagnosis of Mycobacterium. Tuberculosis. The GeneXpert assay provides an automated molecular platform for TB case detection and rifampicin resistance testing for high?endemic countries. With dedicated staff and sufficient instrument capacity, results are available from raw sputum in about two hours.
The NHLS’ participation will ensure that community members attending the National World Aids Day commemoration are tested on site and their results made available within two hours.