The Dutch government is ending support for a 10-year AIDS research and training project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaving its labs and scientists in limbo. It's not clear whether another funder will pick up the tab.
The Ethiopian-Netherlands AIDS Research Project (ENARP) was established in 1993 to train Ethiopian researchers and to lay the groundwork for possible vaccine trials. Toward that goal, the project has tracked the epidemiology of HIV infections in the region by following two cohorts of area factory workers, documenting the number and type of HIV infections as well as the course of disease in infected cohort members.
But the Dutch government, which has spent roughly $1 million a year on the project, has decided to focus on family planning and HIV prevention. Last year an outside review praised the program for training dozens of scientists and technicians and building new labs but criticized it for problems with the design of its cohort studies--in part because too few members became infected. Reina Buijs of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Ethiopian officials agreed with the shift in emphasis.
The center's loss is a blow to those who had hoped to carry out vaccine trials in Ethiopia, says José Esparza, coordinator of the World Health Organization-UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative. "This is one of the few sites in Africa where efficacy trials could be done, where [researchers] have built trust with the community," he says. Project leader Eduard Sanders says he doesn't know what will happen to the infrastructure or the patients who have been followed. Another outside body might fund the work, he says, "if the government of Ethiopia decides such projects are what they want."