EARTH: report on a study visit in South Africa and Mozambique

14 Mar, 2018


The EARTH project, nested within the EPIICAL platform is focussed on recruiting participants from five sites across South Africa and Mozambique: the Africa Health and Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban, The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto,  the Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town, the Ariel Glaser foundation in Maputo and Centro de Investigacao de Saude de Manhiça (CISM) in Manhiça. The objective of EARTH is to characterise the virological and immunological markers in children who have been treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART) within the first 3 months after HIV diagnosis with two years of follow up.

Between the 1st and 16th February 2018, a trio of researchers from the EPIICAL platform; Dr. Eleni Nastuoli,  Dr. Alfredo Tagarro and Dr. Sarah Watters, visited the five sites prior to study initiation. First on the packed agenda was AHRI in Durban where the team were in the expert capable hands of Dr. Siva Danaviah from the laboratory side and Prof. Nigel Klein from the clinic.  Dr. Watters spent time visiting the laboratory facilities and discussing in detail the laboratory protocols with the enthusiastic and well prepared team. Drs. Nastouli and Tagarro visited Somkhele, a three hour drive North of Durban, to visit the clinical sites which included Hlabissa Hospital. The three day visit culminated with a debrief held within the impressive K-RITH Tower and a tour of the facilities.

Next, the team moved to Johannesburg. There, at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, they visited the Perinatal HIV Research Unit, where an excellent and fruitful meeting with the entire clinical and data management team of Dr. Avy Violari took place. The team spent an interesting day at Clinical Laboratory Services (CLS), led by Fiona Shahim. Fiona Shahim provided an excellent tour of the laboratory, which has years of experience processing clinical trial samples. The impressive CLS Bio Repository holds over 2 million samples, H3A  samples are housed within the CLS BR.

Dr. Watters spent the afternoon with the dynamic PBMC processing team going practically through the protocols, ironing out queries and taking on useful comments made by the CLS team. The final stop in South Africa was to Cape Town, where the team visited the Tygerberg Academic Hospital. First stop was a visit with the clinical team led by Prof. Mark Cotton and Dr. Shaun Barnabas, as site PI for EARTH. The group then visited the hospital Research Laboratory, where a meeting with Dr. Gert Van Zyl and Dr. Richard Glashoff promised fruitful collaboration. Later in the day, in the good company of Dr. Barnabas the team met with the centralised BARC Laboratory, where some of the study samples will be processed.

From Cape Town Dr. Nastouli returned to the UK, whilst Drs Tagarro and Watters travelled on to beautiful Mozambique. In Maputo, Dr. María Grazia Laín of the Ariel Glaser Foundation for AIDS Research showed Dr. Tagarro the ART clinic within the Matola Provincial Hospital in Maputo province where kids enrolled for the EARTH study will be followed. Whilst here Dr. Tagarro had the opportunity to meet with the Clinical Research team who demonstrated how the clinic works for ongoing pediatric studies and what has been put in place in preparation for recruitment to EARTH. Meanwhile, Dr. Watters met with Dr Dulce Bila, the Ariel Glaser Foundation Research coordinator, and the laboratory team of the National Institute for Health of the Ministry of Health to fine-tune the aspects in relation to the samples and laboratory systems. Finally, the EARTH travelling duo alongside members of the Ariel Glaser Foundation team traveled to CISM which is based in gorgeous Manhiça district. There the enthusiastic team led by the Drs Tacilta Mampossa and Elisa López Varela took Dr Tagarro on a tour of the Manhiça Hospital and the Research Center, which will function as a whole for the EARTH study. Dr.  Innocenia Cuamba and Dr. Watters worked side by side in the Laboratory. The entire Mozambican team had the opportunity to meet and finalize the details regarding the Ethics Committee, the recruitment, the samples and the data. The objectives of the visit were fulfilled extensively, and we believe that in a short period of time the EARTH study will be able to begin recruiting patients. We are excited and optimistic about the future of EARTH and EPIICAL. We want to thank all the members of the EARTH collaborating research centres for their attention, commitment and their hospitality.

An article by Dr Alfredo Tagarro and Dr Sarah Watters.

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