S Africa launches major new trial of AIDS vaccine

S Africa launches major new trial of AIDS vaccine
Johannesburg, Nov 30 (AFP) South Africa today launched a major clinical trial of an experimental vaccine against the AIDS virus, which scientists hope could be the “final nail in the coffin” for the disease.
More than 30 years of efforts to develop an effective vaccine for HIV have not borne fruit, but for the first time since the virus was identified in 1983, scientists think they have found a promising candidate.
The new study, known as HVTN 702, will involve more than 5,400 sexually active men and women aged 18-35 in 15 areas around South Africa over four years.
It is one of the biggest clinical trials involving the disease ever undertaken and has revived hopes of a breakthrough in the battle against AIDS.
“If deployed alongside our current armoury of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is taking part in the study.
“Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa.”
Condoms are at the frontline of efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, which is mainly transferred through the sexual fluids and blood of infected individuals.
A small number of people, mainly in developed countries, use virus-suppressing drugs as a preventive aid, although the exact level of protection this offers is not clear.
But relying on existing prevention methods was not working, said Mmapule Raborife, one of HIV Vaccine Trials Network’s community advisors in the large township of Soshanguve, north of the administrative capital Pretoria.
“There are condoms everywhere in South Africa but people are just passing by as if there is nothing there,” she told AFP.
South Africa was not chosen by accident. The country has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world — 19.2 per cent according to the UN AIDS agency — with more than seven million people living with the virus.
“A vaccine is critical for South Africa,” Glenda Gray, president of the country’s Medical Research Council said.
“Every day, one thousand people are getting infected and most of them are young women and men so we need to find a solution.”
The vaccine has been adapted for the HIV strain prevalent in southern Africa from one used in a trial of 16,000 people in Thailand in 2009, which reduced the risk of infection by more than 30 per cent for three-and-a-half years after the first jab. (AFP)