One way researchers are studying how to prevent HIV is by using combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) to reduce infectiousness. In other words, using treatment to decrease the chances that someone with HIV will transmit HIV to his or her uninfected partner. This research is particularly important for discordant couples (where one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative).


ZAZI Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre

PHRU established the ZAZI Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Centre in order to offer needed VCT services to the residents of Soweto, test new models of VCT and provide a platform for socio-behavioural research, including risk behaviour and perceptions of risk HIV risk and services. As PHRU’s individual and couples VCT centre, ZAZI is also involved in critical research among discordant couples.

In addition to providing a comprehensive package of care to its clients, the ZAZI VCT Centre facilitates early referral to comprehensive clinical and community-based prevention, care and support services and referral to PHRU’s ongoing research studies.

Learn more about the ZAZI VCT Centre.


Clinical Trials and Research

PHRU works with a diverse group of partners to explore a range of HIV prevention strategies, including the use of treatment as prevention.  Learn more about our ongoing clinical trials and research studies.


Health Information

Learn more about treatment as prevention.

The term microbicide refers to a new type of product being developed that people could use vaginally or rectally to protect themselves from HIV and possibly other sexually transmitted infections. A microbicide could be produced in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or as a sponge or ring that releases the active ingredient over time. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) involves HIV-negative people taking antiretrovirals (ARVs)—the same drugs used to treat HIV—to prevent becoming HIV-infected.

PHRU researchers are investigating these and other novel approaches for the prevention of HIV.


Clinical Trials and Research

PHRU conducts research into microbicides and PrEP as part of the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) and the Microbicides Trials Network (MTN).

Learn more about our ongoing clinical trials and research studies.

Microbicide Trials Network (MTN): Soweto Clinical Research Site.

HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN): Soweto Clinical Research Site.


Health Information

Learn more about microbicides and PrEP.

PHRU recognises the importance of taking a household approach to treating HIV and strives to take a comprehensive, family approach to HIV care and treatment. Whenever possible, we aim to provide services to all members of the family at the same facility in an effort to ease the burden of care for our clients. In addition, PHRU conducts important HIV and TB household research.


In 2002, PHRU was named as one of the primary institutions to implement the Comprehensive International Programme of Research on AIDS—South Africa (CIPRA-SA), a project focused on family and paediatric treatment and vaccine, laboratory and TB research. CIPRA-SA is a multi-disciplinary programme sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Division of AIDS (DAIDS). Specifically, CIPRA-SA focuses on the following projects:

  • Family treatment through either a doctor format or a primary health care nurse format
  • A novel approach to paediatric treatment
  • Bacterial conjugate vaccines
  • Tuberculosis studies
  • Laboratory studies to identify inexpensive monitoring tests for HIV

CIPRA-SA is comprised of a collaboration of organizations from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Partners include the University of Cape Town (UCT), The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF), University of Stellenbosch (US), The Children's Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit (KID-CRU), and the following Wits Health Consortium divisions:

  • Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU)
  • Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU)
  • Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit (RMPRU)
  • Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU)

For its part, PHRU oversees CIPRA-SA’s administrative core, managing all administrative, project management, statistics and data management, financial oversight, regulatory and safety reporting requirements and needs.

Learn more about the CIPRA-SA projects.

Clinical Trials and Research

In 2002-2003, PHRU conducted an innovative household survey to determine the impact of HIV/AIDS on household vulnerability and child health. The survey, which has provided invaluable data on the Soweto population, resulted in the acclaimed report, The Effects of Adult Morbidity and Mortality on Household Welfare and the Wellbeing of Children in Soweto.

Learn more about our ongoing household clinical trials and research studies.

What does a vaccine do?

A vaccine helps the body fight an infection it could come across in the future. Some vaccines do this by teaching the body's immune system how to fight, and other vaccines are antibodies to help with prevention.

What does PHRU Vaccines Research Centre do?

With the help of our trial participants, the Prevention Community Advisory Board (CAB) and our specialised vaccine research pharmacy, we lead ground-breaking work. We conduct Phase I, II, III and post-marketing clinical trials with volunteers of all ages for vaccines that aim to protect against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), tuberculosis (TB) and influenza (flu). The PHRU Vaccines Research Centre was the first site in South Africa to conduct an HIV vaccine trial, and we also conducted the trials testing the first South-African-developed HIV vaccine candidate.

Is there really a vaccine which can help a person prevent getting HIV?

In 2009, the RV144 vaccine regimen used in the "Thai trial" provided Thai trial participants with some protection against HIV. Researchers have been working on improving the RV144 vaccine regimen for sub-Saharan Africa, hoping that it could protect more people and last longer. Dr Fatima Laher, who leads the PHRU Vaccines Research Centre, is the protocol co-chair of the HVTN 100 clinical trial, which found that the vaccine developed for sub-Saharan Africa had a good safety profile and relevant immune responses amongst 252 volunteers in South Africa. She is now co-chairing an even larger study, called HVTN 702, to find out how well the vaccine really works, with over 5400 volunteers in South Africa.

Since 2016, the PHRU Vaccines Research Centre has also been researching a different type of vaccine strategy, "antibody-mediated prevention", and the first results are expected late 2020.

A global-antigen HIV vaccine - one that hopes to protect against all strains of HIV - has been developed by Janssen, and the PHRU Vaccines Research Centre is also helping research this vaccine.


We partner with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), US National Institutes of Health, academic, pharmaceutical and publicly funded institutions.


Soweto Searches for an HIV Vaccine


HIV Research in South Africa: Advancing Life

Which New Health Technologies Do We Need to Achieve an End to HIV/AIDS?

Understanding HIV Vaccine Research

HVTN 702 Launches in South Africa

Young people 15 – 24 year olds account for nearly half of all new HIV infection worldwide. Yet, a PHRU-initiated 2007 survey highlighted significant gaps related to adolescent health needs. In response, PHRU established Kganya Motsha—a dedicated adolescent clinic located in Kliptown, Soweto. Meaning “Shine Young Ones” in SeSotho, Kagnya Motsha has offered comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and HIV care and prevention services to adolescents (aged 14 to 24 years) since 2008. In an effort to reduce the HIV and STI prevalence among Sowetan adolescents, Kgnaya Motsha strives to provide team-based services that are youth friendly, confidential and empowering to adolescents and the community.

In addition to these services the centre also developed a research arm in recognition of adolescent’s historic exclusion from critical biomedical and psychosocial research. Integrating research into the centre activities enables and guides improved, evidence-based HIV prevention and adolescent programming. In this marriage of service and research, Kganya Motsha’s mission is to provide health care services informed by research evidence that take into consideration the cultural, social, economic and political factors that influence health.

While Kganya Motsha’s primary services include HIV testing, treatment and management, pregnancy testing, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), referral for medical male circumcision, psychosocial support and referral to other health care services, much of Kganya Motsha’s work takes place outside the clinic walls. Staff engage in outreach to local schools, training peer educators and building vital community partnerships. Since opening, Kganya Motsha has become widely known and has formed effective partnerships with area high schools, nongovernmental organizations and government departments including the South African Health and Welfare and Education and Security departments.

In a separate but equally exciting initiative, PHRU began offering medical male circumcision in 2010. Medical male circumcision has been shown to be 50 to 60 percent effective at preventing HIV among men. The Khula Ndoda clinic, opened the same year, offers free male circumcisions to residents of Soweto and surrounding communities.

Clinical Trials and Research

PHRU conducts a wide range of research under the watchful eye of its adolescent community advisory board (CAB). Studies have explored HIV and STI prevention, counselling methods and attitudes, parent-adolescent communications and the effects of adult morbidity and mortality on household welfare and the well being of children. PHRU, together with our partners, developed the necessary ethical-legal framework for adolescent involvement in vaccine trials and, today, we pride ourselves on being one of only two international sites involved in adolescent HIV vaccine preparatory work funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn more about our ongoing clinical trials and research studies.


Learn more about Kganya Motsha.

Learn more about Khula Ndoda and free medical male circumcision.

Adolescent Voices

PHRU worked alongside members of the Adolescent Community Advisory Board (CAB) to produce a documentary film about the youth of Soweto, South Africa. After participating an interactive and instructional workshop, CAB members were armed with video cameras they used to interview themselves and friends. The resulting film, Botsha Bophelo, the Youth and Their Lives, explores the adolescents’ lives and concerns, giving the viewer a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in Soweto.

Botsha Bophelo (Youth & Their Lives)

Smangaliso (19 years old)

Vele (17 years old)

Gift (15 years old)

Thando (18 years old)

Slhle (16 years old)

Nomsa (15 years old)

Esther (20 years old) & Julia (15 years old)