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Young Kenyan scientist wins coveted AXA sponsorship


NAIROBI: A young Kenyan scientist has become the first African researcher at an African university to be sponsored by the AXA Research Fund.

Twenty-eight year old Nadia Chanzu has been awarded a two year fellowship at University of Cape Town (UCT) to investigate why HIV-positive pregnant woman on antiretroviral therapy are at particular risk of premature births.

Chanzu currently a research scientist at the Gertrude's Children's Hospital in Nairobi has been described as a "very promising young scientist" with "significant potential by The AXA Scientific Board.

According to an article on the UCT website Chanzu beat thousands of applicants to be awarded the coveted science fellowship.

The AXA Research Fund, the research-funding branch is a global insurance brand that seeks to contribute to a greater understanding and prevention of risk worldwide, including environmental, life and socio-economic risk.

Nearly one million babies died in 2013 due to complications related to premature (pre-term) birth, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates.

For HIV-infected mothers, the risk of giving birth prematurely is extremely high, putting these babies at risk of increased episodes of illness and death.

In order to develop alternative therapies to counter this risk, scientists need a better understanding of the delicate immune balance between an HIV-positive mother and her developing baby.

It is to do exactly this that the AXA Research Fund awarded Chanzu, (postdoctoral) fellowship at UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Chanzu who did her bachelors in medical biochemistry and a PhD at the University of Nairobi described the award as a great honour and an opportunity that will

"I will use this time to improve my knowledge, skills and experience and eventually contribute towards the advancement of the research agenda in my own country," she said in the article.

Thirty-five million people around the world are HIV positive, according to WHO statistics: of those, nearly 71 per cent live in sub-Saharan Africa, making Chanzu's research particularly relevant on the continent.

Chanzu said the ART exposure, along with the HIV, appears to increase the risk of premature birth.

"My research aims to identify some of the altered immune mechanisms within the placentae of HIV-infected women, in comparison with those of HIV-negative mothers, to better understand the immune basis of pre-term births in HIV-positive women," she said.

She says South Africa is the ideal place for her to continue this research.

"South Africa has developed into a hub of ground-breaking HIV-prevention research with some of the leading global infectious diseases experts residing at the University of Cape Town," she said.

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