As a teenager in Uganda, Enoch Muyanja watched a beloved uncle succumb to AIDS: “I couldn’t do anything to save him. This motivated me to pursue a science career and work at finding a cure to this disease,” he said. Today a father of three, Muyanja is working toward a PhD in immunology at Imperial College London funded through the Vaccine Immunology Science and Technology for Africa (VISTA) program; IAVI previously supported his master’s degree in molecular biology at Makerere University. Muyanja explores the lessons for vaccine design from people who spontaneously control HIV infection without therapy (elite controllers). “Once we have the HIV vaccine, AIDS will be history and it will be satisfying to know that our children and the next generations will not have to experience what we have seen.” – Enoch Muyanja, Uganda Virus Research Institute-International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (UVRI-IAVI)
Marianne Mureithi recently won an IAVI award supporting her research to better characterize the early stages of HIV infection to advance vaccine and treatment design. After pursuing her studies in the UK, US and South Africa, Mureithi returned to her native Kenya in 2011 to teach at the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine and contribute to research on AIDS vaccine design and development at Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR). “Having lost several relatives and a few close friends to AIDS, I am driven by the hope and dream of a world without AIDS in my lifetime, with a vaccine readily available and routinely administered across Sub-Saharan Africa.” – Marianne Mureithi, KAVI-ICR
Mureithi’s project, mentored by Tom Hope of Northwestern University in the US, is part of a broader IAVI effort to support KAVI-ICR as a center of excellence in mucosal sampling; in May, KAVI Research Technician Robert Langat attended mucosal assay training at Northwestern University. IAVI also recently supported KAVI-ICR to conduct a regulatory and ethics capacity-building workshop for the national Pharmacy and Poisons Board, the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation and various Kenyan ethics committees.
IAVI also supported AVAC to launch a fast-track Good Participatory Practice online training course for IAVI Community Liaison Officers, including a focus on monitoring and evaluation. In addition, IAVI supported training for Ugandan fishing community peer leaders and health teams on research literacy, HIV risk-reduction counseling, basic healthcare, referrals and advocating for health-services access.
To date, IAVI has helped train more than 1,000 clinicians, nurses and counselors in Good Clinical Practices and more than 1,000 scientists and technicians to accredit their labs under the stringent Good Clinical Laboratory Practices; these trainees continue to extend their learnings to others. As Mureithi’s and Muyanja’s projects illustrate, IAVI also funds advanced-degree courses and “investigator-initiated” research projects by junior- and mid-level African investigators. IAVI’s partnered efforts most recently include a focus on early discovery and vaccine design through VISTA – which also leverages our longtime collaboration with the Government of India to facilitate knowledge and technology transfer. With support from USAID, VISTA aims to address gaps in AIDS vaccine research and to ensure that African scientists play an increasing leadership role in AIDS vaccine design and development.
All these projects illustrate what RAND Corporation characterized in a recent report as IAVI’s “significant contributions” to strengthening East Africa’s health research systems, notably IAVI’s promotion of good practices and scientific excellence; support for basic research; investment in infrastructure; strengthened links among communities, policymakers and researchers; and “train the trainer” efforts.