Talk: Scientific cooperation between Germany and Africa | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 02.09.2013
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Talk: Scientific cooperation between Germany and Africa

Studio guest Prof. Kai Matuschewski of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, in Berlin talks about planned and existing collaborations.

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We're seeing that TB is a problem again. But I thought that there was already a vaccine against it.

Kai Matuschewski:
Well, there is a vaccine. It's 90 years old. It's semi- or partly efficient vaccine, and that was under control until HIV came up and now with the co-infection and this dramatic expansion of TB we just need new tools. It's time to develop a new vaccine 90 years later.

Why isn't the vaccine that's already there not working?

It's an old vaccine that's OK, that gives partial immunity for a couple of years, but it's not effective in adults - we know that - we've known that for decades - and what we need is a better vaccine.

Now you yourself have been working over in eastern Africa doing research there. Can you tell us a little more about your own work?

Yes, we're interested in malaria, which is another big killer, an infectious disease killing about a million children every year in sub-Saharan Africa. Every minute a child dies. It's a pathogen that is very complex, very tricky to contain, and we try to come up with strategies to develop a vaccine.

How critical is the situation with malaria at the moment?

There are huge investments by the world community; for every child born 60 dollars are being spent on control, and it helps a little bit, but certainly not enough.

Now, we're seeing malaria is a problem, we're seeing HIV is a problem, and now tuberculosis. And we're also seeing a lot of cooperation between Germany and Africa. Why now, all of a sudden?

There are many factors, I think. First of all, there is a whole new generation of scientists, young scientists who are being educated in the United States and Europe, with great ideas, who go back to their own countries to contribute to [solving] the major problems there. There are good institutions, there are research investments, and for the first time we are working on a similar level of very high-caliber science. And that's something new. No more clinical trials that are headed by the western, civilized countries. It's really a cooperative, project-based interaction.

How key are these cooperative projects in helping to fight these diseases?

I think they are essential. The diseases happen in these countries. We have our models - we have very defined models - simplified models - often oversimplified. We can test them. We can go back and test them - a reality check in these countries and then go back to the lab. It's an iterative process: lab-bush-lab-bush, and it's exciting

Are they enough to fight what we're up against?

No, I mean this is just the start, right? This is emerging, this is something we will look after, we want to expand but there can be many, many more investments and many, many more research cooperations in the future.

(Interview: Anne O'Donnell)