Prof. Fred Mhalu
Fred Mhalu is a microbiologist and medical researcher from Tanzania. His main area of study revolves around infectious diseases and intervention. Ever since 1986, he has been a main contributor to the information about AIDS in Africa. As a co-coordinator of a Tanzanian-Swedish research collaboration called TANSWED, he was involved in many research projects that lead to multiple publications in medical journals. His more recent research on HIV/AIDS involves studying breast cancer in HIV prevalent areas, evaluating prevention of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV-1, and observing sexual behaviors of high risk populations for HIV-1.
Mhalu trained in medicine at Makerere University College Medical School in Kampala, Uganda. He continued training pathology, microbiology, and immunology at various universities, including the University of Ibadan Nigeria, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at London University. In 2003, Mhalu was awarded an honorary Doctorate at Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Mhalu was a professor at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, a Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Director of Postgraduate Studies and Research at Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences (MUCHS) in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.Before working on AIDS, Mhalu largely focused his studies on communicable diseases and intervention tactics. He was the lead researcher on Tanzania's cholera outbreak. In 1986, his career path shifted and he started researching AIDS prevalence among barmaids in Dar Es Salaam, which had similar trends of transmission to cases in Uganda. Mhalu was a co-coordinator for TANSWED, an HIV/AIDS research program, with Professor Gunnel Biberfeld from Sweden since 1986. He was also a coordinator for a multicenter study in Tanzania for the Prevention of Mother-to-Child HIV transmission (PMTCT) program from 1996 to 1999. Mhalu served as another coordinator for an intervention project called Mother-to-Infant HIV transmission in Tanzania.
In 1986, Mhalu was sent to Congo to investigate an emerging drug, and was found to be very skeptical of its effectiveness. He claimed that effective treatment comes from scientific approaches that studies the molecular biology and biochemistry of the HIV virus, and not spontaneous trials without the usage of scientific principles.
In 2000, Mhalu was invited by the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, to be a part of a panel in the 2000 International AIDS Conference. The purpose of this conference was to bring together many scientists and experts from all over the world to debate the pathology of AIDS. President Thabo Mbeki questioned the relationship that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, and instead believed it was caused by poverty and side effects from Western pharmaceuticals. Through this conference, Thabo Mbeki wanted to get answers from questions, like the pathology of AIDS and prevention, to assist with governmental responses to the epidemic. Mhalu did not attend the conference in Durban, South Africa. In response to this stance by the president of South Africa, five-thousand scientists, including Mhalu, published the Durban Declaration. These scientists were anxious that AIDS denialism presented by Thabo Mbeki would contribute to more AIDS cases and deaths in HIV-prevalence countries, since prevention strategies like condom usage and blood screening would not be encouraged. Mhalu was a contributor to the Durban Declaration Organizing Committee, but he did not sign the declaration.
In 2004, Mhalu co-signed a letter in support for vaccine trials of the RV144 HIV vaccine. This phase III clinical trial in Thailand immunized three-thousand volunteers and tests immune responses at the cellular level. The trial is sponsored by Thai and United States government, and has received some criticism by Dennis Burton and colleagues. Mhalu recognized benefit from this clinical trial because of its contribution to gain knowledge on HIV vaccination development.