South African epidemiologist to lead panel of expert scientists on HIV – UN agency

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé (left) and Salim S. Abdool Karim, Chair of the newly-established UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel. Photo: UNAIDS

3 June 2013 – The head of the United Nations agency leading the global HIV/AIDS response today appointed South African scientist Salim S. Abdool Karim to chair a panel set up to provide advice on how new research and innovations can help tackle the epidemic.

“In the 30 years since HIV was identified, the progress made by science has been extraordinary and its benefits have been felt far beyond those directly affected by HIV,” said Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“To reach the end of the AIDS epidemic, we need to continue to embrace science and innovation and I am delighted that Professor Karim has agreed to take on the leadership of our new UNAIDS scientific panel,” he stated in a news release.

Mr. Karim is an epidemiologist who has conducted research on HIV epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention and treatment over the past 25 years.

The panel which he will head up is tasked with providing strategic advice on the relevance of new research and findings and how they can be rapidly implemented to prevent new HIV infections and improve the lives of people living with HIV. The other members will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Science has the power to illuminate the future path to defeating AIDS. I am humbled by this appointment and look forward to this new challenge,” said Mr. Karim, who is currently Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa – CAPRISA, a long-standing UNAIDS Collaborating Centre.

Mr. Sidibé announced the appointment in Durban, South Africa, during his opening address at a UNAIDS Scientific Symposium on the implications of the so-called ‘Mississippi baby’ for public health programmes on mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The symposium is the first of several scientific consultations the new panel is convening on behalf of UNAIDS.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the baby, treated in the United States with antiretroviral drugs during the first months of her life, appears to be functionally cured of the disease. If the findings are confirmed, it would be the first well-documented case of an HIV-positive child who appears to have no detectable levels of the virus despite stopping HIV treatment.

The doctor who cared for the baby, Dr. Hannah Gay, from the University of Mississippi, is one of the invited experts who will present the case history. Experts will discuss ways to improve early diagnosis of HIV in newborn children and implications of starting them on antiretroviral therapy early.

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