New research at Hlabisa in northern KwaZulu-Natal an area globally known for its high prevalence of HIV/Aids aims to provide answers on how HIV and Tuberculosis interact with non-communicable diseases to cause mortality.

The two-year Vukuzazi project which means ‘wake up and know yourself’ is expected to produce a disease profile of the community which will guide future health care plans.

The community has been surveyed by researchers for 20 years between three and four out of 10 people here are living with HIV in the area.

HIV deaths in the area have decreased, because of access to treatment. But the infection rate remains alarmingly high, especially among young women.

Key to the study by the African Health Research Institute is the mobile health screening fairs set up in communities. There’s still a reluctance to visit clinics.

Africa Health Research Institute Professor Deenan Pillay says, “We have a large number of people who are HIV and we also know that TB is the biggest cause of death in the population often 70%.”

Comprehensive health screenings are done to test the interactions between among others, HIV, TB, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Researchers will for the first time measure all the elements of HIV, including CD 4 counts, the viral loads and the health status of HIV.

And will analyse the circulating strains of Tuberculosis like they’ve never done before.

The community is been keen to participate, and significant number of men have attended the fairs.

22-year-old Siya Nzuza says he wants to know about the status of his health and that he doesn’t want to be caught off-guard.

He says many men are still affected by the stigma of disease.

“Most of them are frightened and others take the sickness very lightly. For others it’s very embarrassing to go to the clinic and get tested. They are afraid that they will be told that they are sick.”

The study will determine what the health priorities are for the future.

AHRI faculty member Dr Mark Siedner says, “We can use that information how today’s health predicts tomorrow’s outcome. Mortality rates are dropping.”

The study has a genetic element which may give answers to what determines who is or isn’t protected from disease.