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  • Sub-Saharan Africa news in brief: 21 May–3 June

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Below is a round up of news from or about Sub-Saharan Africa for the period 21 May–3 June 2009

HIV/AIDS death rates stabilise with early treatment, say scientists
HIV/AIDS patients respond much better to antiretroviral drugs if they start treatment before the virus has severely damaged their immune system, say researchers. The research — conducted in Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe — is likely to boost efforts in early rollout of drugs and regular testing. Many people only go for testing when the disease is clinically advanced and their CD4 count is low, resulting in higher mortality rates even if they have access to antiretrovirals, say the researchers. HIV-infected men and women who receive prompt treatment have the same death rates as the general population after they have survived the first two years of treatment. More>>

Gabon finds new malaria parasite
Researchers have shed new light on the evolution of malaria following the discovery of a new type of malaria parasite in two chimpanzees kept as pets in villages in Gabon. The researchers say that "the risk of transfer and emergence of this new species in humans must be now seriously considered given that it was found in two chimpanzees living in contact with humans and its close relatedness to the most virulent agent of malaria". More>>

XDR-TB spreading among South African healthcare workers
Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) has become an occupational hazard for public healthcare workers in South Africa, according to the first study to monitor transmission in a non-outbreak setting. The researchers noted the lack of standard infection control measures at the state facilities where workers were infected and said the spread of XDR-TB among the very people meant to fight the disease could ''destabilise'' global tuberculosis control efforts unless regular testing and control methods are used among medical and support staff. More>> [80kB]

Rare bacteria emerging in Africa, say scientists The first research conducted on little-known bacteria Tropheryma whipplei suggests that it is emerging as "a highly prevalent pathogen" in Africa, according to work done at the Institute of Research for Development in Dakar, Senegal. The bacteria — which has been identified as the source of Whipple disease, a rare disease in the developed world that is common in sewer workers — was found in the fecal samples of nearly half of the 150 children surveyed in areas with poor sanitation systems. More>> [526KB] Link to French version [432KB] of article.

South African science funding processes slammed
Michael Cherry, the new editor of the South African Journal of Science, has criticised [148KB] the South African government's National Research Foundation (NRF) for its new funding mechanisms [339KB], arguing that their so-called "glue funding" — an automatic annual allocation to researchers based on their NRF rating — discriminates against young researchers. He also questioned why their ''blue skies funding'' [60KB] appears to be running short of cash. In the same edition, University of Cape Town molecular biologist Nicola Illing — who took part in a NRF evaluation panel — criticises the lack of external peer review and the rejection of ongoing research in favour of "novel" research. More>> [156KB]

First draft of Bamako data-sharing code produced
Efforts to share public health data — in the same way that information is pooled in genetics, astrophysics and information technology — has received a boost with the first draft of the proposed Bamako data-sharing code of conduct. Arising from debates at 2008's Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health, held in Mali, the code proposes that even individual records could be shared — under conditions that protect patients' right to privacy while ensuring that health information becomes a public good. More>> [108KB]

Fighting malaria in Tanzania
Theonest Mutabingwa of Tanzania's National Institute for Medical Research is among the researchers who are analysing the development of short-lived neutralising antibodies — which keep infectious agents from infecting cells — in East Africans. Their studies suggest that the antibodies are common in adults immune to malaria, who develop immunity by neutralising an adhesive protein found in the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite, but not children. While further research is planned, the methods used mean that large amounts of useful data can be generated on why these antibodies are short-lived in children. More>>

New cassava varieties pass the taste test
Researchers have found that four high-yielding and disease-resistant cassava varieties — produced by Ghana's Crops Research Institute several years ago — can be processed into gari. Gari is a dry form of cassava that enables the preservation of cassava roots, which are prone to rapid deterioration. Factors such as the extent of fermentation and starch content of the cassava roots affect the quality of the gari, the researchers say. More>> [88KB]

Bacteria attack tropical island crops
Bacterial leaf spot, a harmful disease of cucurbits — which include crops such as cucumbers, squashes and melons — has been identified in the Seychelles Islands for the first time, according to researchers from Agricultural Research for Developing Countries and the University of Reunion Island among others. They identified the disease in watermelons located on the largest island, Mahe. More>>

Compiled by Christina Scott.

If you would like to suggest a story for this news in brief, please contact the Africa News Editor Christina Scott ([email protected]).

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