“We believe that it is absolutely vital that more and more attention is being paid to biomedical HIV prevention research.
“As a department, we are working very hard to encourage investment in research activities by African governments themselves because we believe that as Africa we must take greater responsibility for ensuring that we have dedicated research attention to a wide range of scientific field,” she said on Tuesday.
HIVR4P 2014 is the world's first and only scientific meeting dedicated exclusively to biomedical HIV prevention research.
The conference is intended to serve as an opportunity for sharing and debating the latest advances and challenges in the field, and to promote critical discussions of the issues that will drive intervention-specific and comprehensive biomedical prevention research, discovery, development and implementation.
The conference was told that to date, 35 million people were currently living with HIV and Aids, and that most people living with the disease were in South Africa.
According to a survey by the Human Sciences Research Council, 400 000 new HIV infections occurred in South Africa in 2012, bringing to the total number of infected South Africans to 6.5 million – 1.2 million more than in 2008.
The Minister said these figures could not be ignored and said that her department in partnership with the Department of Health has prioritised research in prevention tools.
“… We believe as Africa we must take greater responsibility for ensuring that we have dedicated research attention for a wide range of scientific fields and in particular, that we must begin to assume responsibility both for researching our problem and for finding solutions to them.
“We must invest in young people, invest in young researchers, create the infrastructure and the capacity for us to be able to be a leading player in science and not be a client of others,” she said.
She said, however, that “Thirty years ago, the global picture was depressing. We were faced with increasing rates of HIV infections and there was very little hope for those infected during those years.
“Now … the overall situation has improved significantly. Today we are talking about approximately 30 drugs that have been approved for use for people living with HIV and Aids and many more are in different shapes of research”.
She said some of the prevention tools that have been created include the prevention of mother to child transmission, male circumcision, pre-exposure prevention, amongst others.
The Minister also said research has shown that early treatment of infections in HIV positive people can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV, and that the use of ARVs in HIV negative people can reduce the risk of infection.
She said it would take biomedical, behavioural and socio-economic interventions to achieve zero new HIV infections and zero discrimination.
South Africa has to date been able to put two and a half million people on ARV treatment, which has reduced the number of mother to child transmissions and brought down the number of people dying from HIV aids.
Meanwhile, the Minister said her department would soon sit down with researchers to discuss various ways in which research into Ebola can be encouraged.