University of Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
University of Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The world’s first international research centre for tackling fungal infections — which kill about 1.3-million people globally every year — opened at the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Friday.

The majority of deaths related to fungal infections are in Africa‚ particularly sub-Saharan Africa where about 50% of deaths are caused by invasive fungal infections.

In 2008‚ 1-million cases of cryptococcal meningitis were reported in patients with HIV‚ resulting in more than 500,000 related deaths‚ UCT said in a statement on Friday.

Prof Mark Nicol‚ head of UCT’s division of medical microbiology in the department of pathology‚ said: "This is a wonderful opportunity to develop a centre of excellence for [researching] fungal infections on the African continent. We will have the opportunity to extend the pioneering clinical research on fungal infections taking place at UCT by collaborating with scientists studying the biology and immunology of fungal infections at the world-leading centre [at the University of] Aberdeen (UA) in Scotland."

"Now, the UA’s internationally recognised Aberdeen Fungal Group (AFG)‚ in collaboration with UCT‚ have established the world’s first research centre focused on tackling these diseases in Africa. The R10m (£600‚000) UA’s AFGrica Unit will be based at UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine‚ headed by Prof Valerie Mizrahi."

Prof Gordon Brown from the AFG‚ who led the establishment of the AFGrica Unit‚ said: "Fungal infections are under-studied and under-diagnosed compared with other infectious diseases‚ despite their contribution to so many deaths every year. Fungal infections kill more people in Africa than anywhere else on the planet. The AFGrica Unit is a unique opportunity to address the urgent need to improve basic knowledge and clinical management of fungal infections in Africa."

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