Malegapuru William Makgoba, former vice chancellor and principal of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), was an instrumental force behind the creation of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH). He presented the following remarks on May 26, 2010, when William Bishai was named as the first full-time director of K-RITH. He was speaking at UKZN’s Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa.
“It was in the mid-1980s, when I was a visiting associate at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, that I had a dream of being a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. Other events overtook this, and I had to suspend my dream. Little did I realize then that I would have another opportunity to become part of the HHMI family. The establishment of K-RITH has provided just that opportunity.
It was an historic occasion on March 19, 2009, when HHMI and UKZN officially announced the groundbreaking partnership to establish the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine.
Two events were held simultaneously to mark this significant announcement—one in Washington, D.C., and the other here in the Susser and Stein seminar room at the School of Medicine. Thomas R. Cech, then HHMI’s president, and myself had the privilege and honour to make the official announcement in Washington, D.C., which was video streamed live to the event held at the medical school and to the desktops of UKZN staff. It was indeed an historic occasion. At the time, it was the culmination of nearly two years of discussions between the HHMI and UKZN leaderships. The announcement received extensive local and international media coverage. The Mercury in South Africa reported in its editorial, and I quote, ‘The facility aims to help the entire continent and will also serve for the training of African scientists. We hope this bold investment will yield positive results for millions of sufferers from this ailment.’
When Cech, a Nobel Laureate, departed as HHMI’s president, he was replaced by Robert Tjian. Tijan is an eminent biochemist and molecular biologist who has been pivotal in unraveling the molecular details of how genes are switched on and off in a cell, really the structure and function of the eukaryotic apparatus. He has not only accelerated this project but has given it his priority and total commitment. Together with Jack Dixon, the HHMI vice president and chief scientific officer, they have brought us where we are today: the announcement of K-RITH’s founding director. I want to especially thank them for their dedication to this joint project.
Just over a year later, following a rigorous selection process, Professor William Bishai has been appointed to lead the scientific studies that will be undertaken at K-RITH. Bill is a remarkable individual, a leading scientist and academic who has chosen to take up this position as founding director of
K-RITH here in KwaZulu-Natal Province, at the epicentre of this devastating epidemic. Under his bold leadership, I believe that the scientific studies undertaken at K-RITH will make major scientific contributions that will go a long way in providing insights, understanding, and possible solutions in the control, diagnosis, and treatment /alleviation of the devastating co-epidemic of TB and HIV and, more importantly, train a new generation of scientists in Africa, an integral objective of this institute.
Is it not great to know that the best research facilities anywhere on the planet for developing and training future scientists in this particular area are located here at UKZN within the continent of Africa? If I were young and choosing a career I would reflect profoundly on this.
I wish to acknowledge the steering committee members for their contributions: Professor Bruce D. Walker of Harvard Medical School, Professor William R. Jacobs of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, Professor Salim S. Abdool Karim, pro vice-chancellor for research at UKZN, and Professor Willem Sturm, dean of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine and a noted TB researcher. I am also pleased to announce that UKZN’s deputy vice-chancellor-elect of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Tahir Pillay, has been appointed to the Board of Directors of K-RITH. An official announcement of the full board membership will be made in the next few months.
The approximately R400 million ($55 million U.S.) institute building, which is scheduled for completion at the end of 2012, is the singular and most significant major health research investment on the African continent and globally on this specific aspect of the epidemic. The TB/HIV institute is undoubtedly one of the most advanced research institutes in the world. The main building will comprise seven floors – one entire biosafety level (BSL) 3 laboratory floor, three BSL 2 laboratory floors, with each of these three floors containing one small BSL 3 laboratory. The total investment, which includes scientific research over a ten-year period, is approximately R1 billion ($138 million U.S.). Professor Bishai will now begin the process to recruit the best scientific brains, particularly in TB and HIV. There will be no delays in the scientific studies and whilst the building of this institute is underway a BSL3 laboratory has been built in the department of medical microbiology here at the medical school. It is in the process of being commissioned, and the lab will be fully operational within the next few months.
Professor Bishai, I wish to—on behalf of the council and executive of the University of KwaZulu-Natal—warmly welcome you to the university and indeed to our beautiful country, South Africa. I know that you and your wife, Martha Bishai, will enjoy the mountains, the magnificent beaches, and the wildlife. We look forward to you taking office on September 1 this year. I am told that you have closely inspected the site of the institute, and it is my pleasure to present a small token that you will remember with fondness in years to come of your visit here to the medical school campus. I thank you.”
* These remarks have been edited for publication on the web.