Centre to bring answers

2019-02-26 06:01
Robin Wood and Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng officially opening the centre. PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

Robin Wood and Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng officially opening the centre. PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

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A new research facility that has officially opened in Sunnydale near Masiphumelele might hold the answer to the country or the world when it comes to the transmission of tuberculosis (TB).

The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) has opened a new research facility which they hope will bring answers to the many questions when it comes to TB. The cost of the centre is about R10billion, excluding the equipment. The DTHF is a non-profit company that operates in association with the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, an accredited research centre within the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town.

The new Aerobiology Centre is custom built to study the transmission of TB among humans. Although curable and preventable, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of TB in the world. TB – in association with HIV – is the leading cause of death due to natural causes in the country. TB is caused by bacteria and the disease most often affects the lungs and is spread from person to person through the air.

TB patients from Masiphumelele, Ocean View and Fish Hoek are volunteering for trials at the centre.

At the official opening of the centre, COO of the DTHF, Linda-Gail Bekker, said when they first introduced the HIV Centre to the people of Masi there were about 6000 people in the community at that time and the community has since grown to over 20 000.

“The community has grown and for us to be able to bring this centre to them means a lot. This will bring the next cutting-edge scientific research. After many, many nights of discussions I could see this come together in his (Robin Wood’s) mind. It is really lovely to see this vision come alive.”

Director and CEO of the DTHF, Robin Wood, said they have a different vision on how they can control TB.

“We have discovered that by the age of five, 20% are infected by TB and at high school about 50% in the area are infected. Our aim is to bring the latest research in TB transmission. The centre is going to help us operationalise our research. It will change the way we do the research and we hope it will benefit a lot more people. We have a state-of-the art facility and the aim is to stop transmission rates which are totally unacceptable. We hope that technology will allow us to stop the transmission,” he said

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said it is at moments like these that she wishes to call on the whole country to see the work that UCT does.

“The work we do responds to the centre’s work. As researchers we are driven by questions we want answers to. The answers you want are answers to the problems of the community or even answers to the world. One might ask, will this facility make a difference? The answer is yes. The centre, the community, and through all the collaboration [other] communities will benefit. This is for the community. This centre belongs to so many people – the community, donors and most of all the people that will benefit from the work that will be done here,” she said.

The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation has partnered with the community of Masiphumelele for many years. In 2004 the DTHF opened a small research centre adjacent to the public clinic. Later, land was acquired opposite Masiphumelele High School and a youth centre was built, followed by a large research centre created from prefab buildings left over from the 2010 World Cup.

The DTHF is focused on gaining new knowledge in the prevention and treatment of HIV and related diseases in under-served communities.

Established in 2004, the DTHF serves communities at five sites in Gugulethu, New Crossroads, Old Groote Schuur Hospital, Philippi Village and Masiphumelele in the Fish Hoek Valley. In addition the DTHF has five mobile units that reach outlying communities. The purpose of their work is to find innovative ways to prevent HIV and TB and to improve the health outcomes of those receiving treatment. Their mission is the pursuit of excellence in research, treatment, training and prevention of HIV and related infections in Southern Africa.

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