Universities take lead in AIDS research

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South Africa's universities have been at the forefront of HIV research in the past decade and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) has the top spot nationally in producing scientific research on the pandemic, a recent study revealed. It placed South Africa eighth in the world in terms of HIV-Aids publication.

"Scientometrics of a Pandemic: HIV-Aids research in South Africa and the World", an analysis done by Anthipi Pouris and Anastassios Pouris, was published in the Journal Scientometrics earlier this year. The research covered the period between 2006 and 2010.Wits produced 473 papers, or 20.42% of a national total of 2,316 publications focused on HIV-Aids during the period. Most were published in the South African Medical Journal. It was followed by the University of Cape Town, which produced 19.17% of papers, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal with 18.3%.The University of Stellenbosch produced 196 articles, the University of Pretoria 97 and the University of the Western Cape 71. Another seven institutions - two science councils, three research institutes and two hospitals - together produced the remaining nearly 30% of publications related to HIV-Aids.

"It is really surprising the response of the scientific community. South Africa has a pluralistic system of innovation and as such is not amenable to direction provision," said Professor Anastassios Pouris, one of the researchers and director of the Institute for Technological Innovation at the University of Pretoria.Pouris told University World News it was apparent that the scientific community had decided on its own to make a contribution to the country's biggest problem, and individual researchers moved into the field.

UNAIDS Global Report 2008 revealed that about 33 million people were living with HIV worldwide, around 22 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has the highest number of HIV infections in the world, an estimated 5.6 million people in 2009, and that year some 310,000 South Africans were estimated to have died of Aids.

Pouris said the efforts by the Department of Science and Technology to link the scientific community with the European Union's programmes may have contributed to a growth in HIV-Aids research during the period, though this needed further investigation.The study found that South Africa continues to produce an increasing number of HIV-Aids related publications, although America with 19,542 publications between 2005 and 2007 holds the world record. It is followed by the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada and Germany. South Africa is listed eighth in the world.

Pouris said South African researchers mainly focused on immunology, public health, virology and paediatrics in relation to HIV-Aids, and they collaborated mainly with researchers in the US, England, Canada and France.Clinical medicine was the dominant field both in South Africa and the world, said Pouris, adding that comparison showed South Africa under-emphasised molecular biology and genetics biology and biochemistry, pharmacology and pharmacy while over-emphasising issues related to social sciences.

"A critical weakness in South Africa is the limited resources allocated in the country's universities, both for research and other activities," said Pouris."Lack of resources creates sub-critical research groups. The government should increase substantially the investment in the country's universities the same way that is happening in OECD countries," he stressed.

Munyaradzi Makoni

University World News