The second synchronicity meeting of Canadian and African HIV prevention and vaccine researchers Afri-Can Forum-2 was held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 16-18 February 2015, chaired by MRC Unit The Gambia’s Dr Assan Jaye, Chair of the West African Platform for HIV Intervention Research (WAPHIR).
The Africa-Canadian partnership was funded by Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI), a Canadian research funding partnership of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the international Development Research Centre (IDRC).
GHRI funds nine research consortia in Africa who are collaborating with Canadian researchers to strengthen capacity building in HIV prevention and carry out HIV intervention research; one of these consortia is WAPHIR, consisting of a partnership between MRC Unit The Gambia, Laboratory of Bacteriology-Virology, University of Cheikh Anta Diop (LBV-UCAD) in Senegal and the Bandim Health Project (BHP) of Guinea Bissau.
Objectives of the Forum included showcasing achievements, providing an opportunity for inter-team collaboration, synchronizing best approaches for capacity building and building leadership. WAPHIR was given the privilege to organize the Forum, which put Dr Assan Jaye as Chair of the Forum Organization.
Over 130 participants attended from the GHIRI-funded teams: Canada-Africa Prevention Trials Network (CAPT-N), Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI), African Development of AIDS Prevention Trials (ADAPT2), the TanZamBo Project, the Nigeria Team Project, the West Africa Platform for HIV Intervention Research (WAPHIR), the Canada Sub-Saharan-Africa HIV/AIDS Network (CanSSA) and the Benin HIV prevention preparatory team.
The meeting started with three satellite sessions, the first of which focused on making immunological tools accessible through the use of ‘Immunopaedia’: a web-based programme. Designed by Professor Clive Gray of University of Cape Town it addresses the fundamental needs of healthcare providers requiring a general understanding of immunology and more specifically for people working with HIV-infected children.
The website (www.immunopaedia.org.za) is composed of clinical and immunological themes where information is presented in various formats to maximize the readers’ understanding of clinical case studies, questions and answers. It also has colour graphics and text designed to explain concepts which correspond with a particular case study, as well as tools, web links and news items to keep readers updated with the world of clinical and basic immunology.
The second satellite session featured Drs Allan Ronald (University of Manitoba, Canada), Peter Dukes (Africa Research Development, MRC UK) and Assan Jaye (MRC Unit The Gambia). Each highlighted practical steps that upcoming scientists could adopt to develop leadership skills and maximise the capacity building and mentoring opportunities available in their institutions. Garry Aslanyan from the WHO/TDR in the last satellite session gave a detailed presentation on seven principles necessary for strengthening research in low and mid-income countries.
Advancing research efforts
The conference was officially opened by the South African Minister of Health, who was represented by Dr Zukiswa Pinini (Chief Director, HIV/AIDS and STI of the South African Ministry of Health). The first keynote presentation was on the state of HIV clinical trials with pre-exposure prophylaxis, delivered by Dr Kenneth Ngure of Jomo Kenyatta University. He clearly established that anti-retroviral drugs taken before exposure could substantiality reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV by people who are hitherto free from HIV.
In her keynote address, Professor Glenda Gray, Director of HIV vaccine Trials Network in South Africa, described vaccines as the greatest cost-saving technology of any health care intervention with the greatest societal benefit regarding reducing the effects of an illness. Despite the undisputable benefits and crucial need for an HIV vaccine, she explained the extensive efforts that have been made to develop an HIV vaccine and highlighted the reasons these efforts have not translated into successful development of an effective HIV vaccine. She however expressed huge optimism in the Pox-Protein Public Private Partnership (P5) to advance the research efforts that may lead to development of an HIV vaccine in the near future.
Sharing achievements and challenges
Many young investigators from Africa and Canada made oral and poster presentations that covered HIV immunology and genetics; behavioural and social approaches to HIV prevention; capacity building for HIV prevention; and HIV vaccine research.
Each partner site also showcased their achievements recorded on capacity building, institutional strengthening, scientific outcomes and successes. Challenges encountered at various sites and lessons learnt were also shared.
MRC Unit The Gambia, led by Dr Assan Jaye through the WAPHIR, showcased a team of scientists whose presentations on ethics and regulatory reviews enriched the highly successful meeting.
The meeting ended with strong resolutions by the participants to consolidate the achievements recorded by the Africa-Canadian partnership so as to entrench sustainability, create synergy and explore further collaborative opportunities to harmonize best approaches to capacity building, mentoring new researchers and building leaders.
Commenting on the success of the meeting, Dr Assan Jaye said: “I feel proud that the hard work it took to organize this Forum resulted in a huge success. Not only have scientists enjoyed the scientific programmes and engaged in sharing experiences, there was renewed optimism and enthusiasm for inter-network, South-South collaboration in HIV research in Africa. MRC Unit The Gambia has also once more demonstrated its leading role and commitment to influencing regional research collaboration and networking.”
To find out more visit the Afri-Can Forum-2 website: http://www.african-forum.ca/.