Joining forces to combat the deadly duo of HIV and TB

Tuberculosis and HIV are two of the world’s deadliest infections. But when a person has both diseases at the same time, each disease speeds up the progress of the other.

In what supporters are calling a bold move, two research giants decided this year to join forces to form a new institute to combat the HIV and TB co-infection epidemic.

Woman seated on mat indoors, with laptop computer and notebooks (Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Trust)
Fieldworker Philile Mcambi captures data in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. (Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Trust)

The effort focuses on South Africa, where almost three-quarters of TB patients are also infected with HIV. Worldwide, 1 in 3 HIV deaths were due to TB in 2015.

The newly created Africa Health Research Institute in KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province, combines the Africa Centre for Population Health with the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB-HIV.

Deenan Pillay seated outdoors in garden (Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Trust)
Deenan Pillay, director of the newly formed Africa Health Research Institute (Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Trust)

This new venture is backed by grants from the U.S.-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust.

The effort brings together researchers from different fields and will help train the next generation of African scientists. Advocates say it could serve as a model for defeating HIV and TB worldwide.

“KwaZulu-Natal is at the center of the dual epidemics of HIV and TB,” says Deenan Pillay, incoming director of the institute.

“This is the one place in the world where the marrying of disciplines can have maximum impact on new HIV infections and TB transmission,” he says.

One of the challenges in treating people with both infections is that both TB drugs and antiretrovirals for HIV have side effects, which means people often don’t adhere to their treatment regimes. The new institute hopes to change that.