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Perinatal HIV Research Unit


Acting Director: Dr Neil Martinson

The Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU), is affiliated to the University of the Witwatersrand, and is based on the campus of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in southern Africa. This research unit has been at the forefront of pioneering research and implementation of HIV prevention and treatment strategies. The PHRU was established in 1996, by Professors Glenda Gray and James McIntyre. At that time, most of the research conducted by the unit was in the field of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and assessing affordable options to prevent paediatric infections. Research activities at the PHRU, in collaboration with other scientists, has shaped national and international guidelines. To improve access to care, and to promote further understanding of antiretroviral therapy, the PHRU became involved in therapeutic clinical trials with antiretroviral therapy, for both adults and children. The research conducted in the unit has resulted in the registration of antiretroviral drugs for infants, children and adults. In addition, a study initiated by Dr Avy Violari, from the PHRU, found that the survival of children could be significantly enhanced if treatment was started early, has revolutionised care for children not only in resource poor settings, but in the developed world as well.

Not only has the PHRU been on the forefront of PMTCT and paediatric treatment, it has built a formidable TB research agenda. More recently, under the leadership of Dr Neil Martinson, TB research has expanded to other areas in South Africa. Dr Lerato Mohapi was one of the first clinicians to start treating HIV infected adults with antiretrovirals in South Africa. In her programme, she has managed to treat more than 3000 adults with antiretrovirals. Dr Mohapi is also the head of the Adult Clinical Trial Group (ACTG) clinical research site in Soweto, and has been an investigator on numerous new antiretroviral drugs. Her data has contributed to the registration of new antiretroviral drugs, both in South Africa and globally.

In recent years the work of the unit has expanded beyond the original focus of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, to include treatment trials in adults and children, prevention research, psychosocial research and policy development. In addition, the unit has developed an HIV Vaccine Clinical Trials Unit (HVCTU) and started with HIV vaccine trials in 2001. The unit was one of eleven international HIVNET sites for HIV prevention research, and is an international site for the Paediatric AIDS Clinical Trial Group (PACTG). The unit is at the forefront of HIV vaccine research in South Africa, which has been identified as a priority by the government and is collaborating with both the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI). A TB and HIV research programme has been established in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University.

Notable accolades Professor Gray has been awarded include:

  • Nelson Mandela Health and Human Rights Award (2002).
  • Elected as a Member of the Academy of Science South Africa
  • Elected as a Foreign Associate: Institute of Medicine, of the National Academies of Science, USA (2011).
  • Elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology, 2012.
  • Awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Simon Fraser University, June 2012.

To read more about the PHRU, visit their website