Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) faculty member, Prof Frank Tanser, in collaboration with researchers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Stellenbosch University, has been awarded a prestigious R40-million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH R01 grant, often considered the ‘gold standard’ for major research funding, will fund the implementation of a five-year investigation to establish the spatial, temporal, and demographic shifts in new HIV infection patterns in the post-Covid era and design new intervention strategies accordingly.

This collaborative study includes scientists from AHRI, UKZN, Stellenbosch University, University of Lincoln, University of Heidelberg, University of Washington, New York University and the University of Cincinnati.

The study, titled ‘The changing face of HIV in the era of Covid-19’, aims to establish the population shift in new HIV infections patterns in the Covid-19 pandemic era by leveraging the statistical power of over 20 years of population-based health data from AHRI’s population-based HIV cohort in northern KwaZulu-Natal, – one of the largest HIV cohorts in the world. The study will quantify the shifts in spatial, temporal and demographic burden of HIV incidence and underlying viral load patterns in KwaZulu-Natal. It will also investigate changes due to new HIV infection distribution in the population following the shift towards Dolutegravir-based regimens (a new cost-effective drug enabling better treatment adherence) and scale-up of new prevention interventions such as pre-exposure prophylaxis.

The study findings are essential for the design of future intervention programmes, which will maximise HIV incidence reduction based on the dynamic needs of the most vulnerable sub-populations in rural areas.

“We are extremely excited and honoured to have been awarded this grant from the NIH.  This is one of the only settings in the world where we can measure dynamic changes in the burden of new HIV infections with a high degree of accuracy. 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 make a massive difference to local populations who are still at high risk of infection from this terrible disease,” said Prof Tanser.