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BGU Warrior on the Frontline in Global Fight Against AIDS

July 27, 2012

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Zvi Bentwich

Prof. Zvi Bentwich

In the scientific community, there is no doubt that the most profound difference Israel has made in combating HIV/AIDS can be traced to the work of one man: Prof. Zvi Bentwich, the 76-year-old head of BGU's Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS and member of the Department of Virology and Developmental Genetics.

Bentwich’s groundbreaking research in the 1990s uncovered the strong link between intestinal worms and immune system deficiencies. According to researchers, Bentwich solved the mystery as to why HIV/AIDS in Africa is more easily transmitted than in developed countries.

When there was an influx of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, he noticed the strong correlation between people infected with intestinal worms and those with severely compromised immune systems.

“Although immunologists knew parasites have an effect on the immune system, it hadn’t been well researched,” he told the Times of Israel after a public lecture at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, just prior to the start of the International AIDS Conference that attracted 25,000 physicians, activists, researchers, and others.

“So I began studying non-HIV positive immigrants and then conducted a series of studies, which are my major contribution to science, showing that the intestinal worms do have a major effect on the immune system.”

Since his landmark studies were published, the former IDF flight surgeon has traveled to Africa 22 times to help eradicate intestinal parasite infections through the promotion of good hygiene.

“These diseases are not only a medical problem but also a social and economic problem,” says Bentwich. “The solution has to come from educating teachers and children about how to keep clean and avoid getting worms. The cost to treat intestinal worms is just a few cents compared to the hundreds of dollars it costs to treat more serious diseases.”

Read more on The Times of Israel>>