Professor Rob Slotow; Professor Thumbi Ndung’u;
Mr Brian Moshal; and the Victor Daitz Foundation’s
Mr Bev Cohen (Management Secretary).

Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, Director for UKZN’s HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) and the Hasso Platner Research Laboratory as well as Head of the Max Planc Research Institute for Infection Biology and the South African Research Chair in Systems Biology of HIV/AIDS was named the new Victor Daitz Chair in HIV/TB Research.

The announcement was made at a prestigious event held at the medical campus and attended by representatives of the Victor Daitz Foundation together with local and international scientists in HIV and TB research.

The Chair was named after the late Victor Daitz, a highly respected industrialist, entrepreneur and humanitarian who was coined as ‘a man of insight, wisdom, knowledge and philanthropy’.

The Victor Daitz Foundation honours Daitz’s wish to give back to the community a major portion of the wealth he had accumulated during his lifetime by operating as a private community chest. The Foundation is well known for making major contributions towards the charitable needs of all community groups in South Africa, with a significant portion of its funds directed towards the AIDS pandemic and the needs of historically disadvantaged groups of our society.

Mr Brian Moshal, Managing Trustee of the Foundation, who announced the new Chair said, ‘The Victor Daitz Foundation is proud to welcome “this humble young man” given the fact that he uses his skill and ability in the prevention of HIV research, through conducting novel studies in vaccine development.’

In his augural address Ndung’u proposed a rejuvenation of the R2,5 million Victor Daitz Information Gateway, based in the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. His plans include offering up-to-date access to top journals in HIV and TB biomedicine; recruitment of at least two senior investigators to bolster HIV and TB research at UKZN with an emphasis on student training and mentorship; the promotion of access to laboratory facilities by clinician scientists; community outreach programmes that are based on strategic initiatives; and open-access of publications to UKZN researchers.

Ndung’u reflected on the high HIV and TB prevalence, stating that TB has been exacerbated by the pandemic of HIV. He said it was exciting that the Chair is funded by the Victor Daitz Foundation as this was in line with reimagining KwaZulu-Natal as an epicentre for innovative research and expertise in HIV and TB locally.

‘Although antiretroviral treatment has significantly reduced morbidity and mortality, its drug development has taken place in Western countries, whereas the disease burden is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. We need to do more in preventing HIV infection right from the beginning.’

Ndung’u outlined the following as key research areas to be addressed in the new position: the lack of effective vaccines; poor or delayed diagnosis especially for TB; drug resistance; and limited drug pipeline and sustainability of current approaches. 

He shared his vision to capacitate young scientists which he believes will make a huge contribution to the biomedical aspects of the TB/HIV syndemic. He said the Chair is well-nestled in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) as UKZN leadership supports knowledge generation and developing a new cadre of graduates.

Professor Rob Slotow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the CHS, said the establishment of the Victor Daitz Chair in HIV Research in 2001 strengthened the message of health researchers based at UKZN to a community ravaged by the disease that “Aids can be beaten”. He said the College was proud of the significant contributions its academics have made in HIV/TB research.

‘We are also proud to host the Victor Daitz Chair and have full confidence in the new incumbent. We believe that the new chair will play a leading role in improving teaching and scholarship at the University but also possesses the experience and expertise to tackle the burden of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.’

Congratulatory remarks were made by Dr Dennis McKearin from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor Hoosen Coovadia, Emeritus Victor Daitz Professor, who recognised Ndung’u as ‘a great human being and an extraordinary scientist’ whose array of accomplishments precedes him.