Taking this test could save your life
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in South Africa. Once thought to be under control, it has become an epidemic alongside HIV. Approximately half of all TB sufferers are HIV positive, developing the disease due to their compromised immune systems. Strains of drug-resistant TB are also increasing in prevalence, leaving South Africans at greater risk and devastating communities. TB tests are slow to give results, meaning many potential patients lose out on vital time to start treatment. One scientist is trying to change that.
Gerhard Walzl has spent the last 10 years developing a finger-prick blood test that delivers same-day results, revolutionising the way South Africa will be able to treat TB. It’s hand-held, easy for clinic workers to administer, and reduces hospital visits for patients who can’t afford transport. “I decided I will make sure that I produce something that can help individuals, rather than just build up my scientific career,” he says. Specialising in TB biomarkers, Walzl is at the forefront of TB research in South Africa. He leads the Immunology Research Group and is the head of Biomedical Sciences at Stellenbosch University. Along with developing the rapid test, his team is also conducting research into developing a vaccine for the debilitating disease.
“I think internationally South Africa is seen as one of the leaders in TB research, and we have a lot to be proud of,” Walzl says. “What excites me about science is the application of knowledge to solve big problems.” Although the test is still in its trial phase, Walzl and his team have begun a groundbreaking intervention in the scourge of TB.