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Not an HIV cure, but a step in the right direction

The severity of HIV/AIDS is not unknown to Batswana. With a prevalence rate of about 18.5% and an estimated rate of 1.35% it is hard to find a family completely untouched by HIV. Though HIV is still a serious threat to the lives of Batswana there have been notable accomplishments in the struggle against the pandemic, particularly the use of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV’s) as a treatment for those infected with the virus.

Through the use of ARV’s, individuals can expect to live up to twenty years longer than is possible without them. However as good as ARV’s are, they are in no way a final solution in HIV treatment.

A team of scientists at the University of Botswana (UB) have been working on developing compounds superior to the current ARV’s on the market in the treatment of HIV.  This research is championed by four academics; Dr. Mapolelo, Dr. Natiyane, Dr. Nkwe and Dr. Nareetsile.

The need for better ARV’s is a pressing concern because of drug toxicity. James Matshwele, a research assistant in the team and prospective Master’s student in chemistry says that “until treatment which does not induce side effects and cause any long term damage from continuous dosage is developed, research must continue.”

The investigation for better therapies at the University began when PhD student, Scotch Ndlovu put together literature research which showed that there are a class of compounds called metal complexes capable of inhibiting HIV replication.

The inhibition of HIV replication is an important effect in that it slows or possibly even halts the multiplication of HIV within a host. With the spread of the HIV infection effectively contained within the host, the onset of AIDS is delayed and the infected individual is less likely to infect others.

The ability of some of the metal complexes to inhibit HIV replication was shown to be better than azidothymidine (AZT). AZT is the main compound used in current antiretroviral medication. It slows HIV replication in patients but does not stop it entirely and HIV may become AZT resistant over time.

The work done by Mr. Ndlovu prompted further research by the University chemistry department.

James Matshwele, who was a final year student in 2015 did his project conducting experiments demonstrating the effectiveness of metal complexes in inhibiting HIV replication.

Mr. Matshwele went on to present his work at an international science conference in South Africa. Since then the research team has formed collaborations with Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), FORT HARE University in South Africa and University of Johannesburg also in South Africa. Dr. Nareetsile anticipates a three-year timeline till the conclusion of the research.

However, she does admit to a few challenges in the way of advancing the research.   She cites funding as a minor challenge, secure in the knowledge that funds will be made available by both the University of Botswana and BIUST. Her main concern is that there are too few scientists available for research.

Doctors and Professors typically rely on their post graduate students to spend time in the laboratory conducting experiments and collecting data for research. Due to notably few students pursuing post graduate degrees in science there are even fewer students available to participate in research projects the university will be engaged in.

Dr. Nareetsile points out that a possible reason for the shortage in students is that most top performing science students prefer to pursue further studies abroad and the rest often don’t satisfy the strict entry criteria required by the university.  

In addition, there is an economic challenge for citizens since there is no sponsorship available for citizens wishing to pursue a post graduate degree. All things considered the research on metal complexes presents many exciting possibilities.

Should favourable results come out of the research better ARV’s will be developed which will extend the life expectancy of HIV patients. Young people who get infected will still be able to live long lives, comparable even to those uninfected.

Also because the drugs would have been developed primarily from research done in Botswana the cost of acquiring the drugs for the populace will be lower because the intellectual property will not be owned by foreign entities.

Meanwhile Batswana students involved benefit from the capacity building they will be exposed to and the prestige from working on research of such a caliber.

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Hunt for new Ombudsman ongoing

17th August 2022

The Minister of Justice, Machana Shamukuni says the search to appoint the Ombudsman and other critical heads of department is currently ongoing and the process is expected to be completed before end of the year.

The Ombudsman position fell vacant almost five months ago after Augustine Makgonatsotlhe was removed from the office and appointed as Ambassador to Kuwait.

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Two Batswana detained in Zim for illegal trade in mercury

17th August 2022

Two Batswana nationals have been arrested in Zimbabwe for illegal trade in mercury. The duo is being held together with a Zimbabwean national who is being questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

This publication understands that the suspects who are aged between 39 and 56 years hail from Tutume and Selebi-Phikwe. At the time of the arrest, they were found in possession of a pistol, bomb motor and four live rounds. It is understood that the suspects told investigators during interrogation that the deadly substance has a lucrative market in Far East countries, where the demand is high. It is further reported that the suspects claimed that the mercury can be easily accessed in mines through middleman.

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No end in sight for Botswana/ Namibia looming border row

17th August 2022

The Namibian Lives Matter Movement has weighed in on the looming border dispute between their country and Botswana.

Commenting on reports that the Namibian Parliament has dispatched a committee along the border between the two countries on fact finding mission, the group commended“the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, De-fence and Security that will engage community members living along the Namibia Botswana Border in conducting public hearings into acts of aggression and brutality by Botswana Defence (BDF) Force against innocent and unarmed Namibians.” 

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