HIV vaccine trial offers hope

by Alvine Kapitako

HIV vaccine trial offers hope

Windhoek

Activists in the health sector and particularly those engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS are hoping the new clinical trial of a vaccine to be launched tomorrow in South Africa on could prevent HIV infection.
Activists are crossing their fingers in the hope the experimental vaccine trial will be a success.

The executive director of the Namibia Network of AIDS Services Organisations (Nanaso) Sandi Tjaronda said: “It’s just a trial. It can go either way, but if it’s successful that is what we want and it will be a welcome development.”
“That’s what we are looking forward to,” said HIV/AIDS activist Immanuel Sheefeni, adding that whatever can be done to fight the epidemic is worth the investment.



The latest trial is only the seventh full-scale human trial for a virus that infects more than 2 million people and kills over 1 million every year.

In Namibia there are about 220 000 HIV-positive people, of which about 150 000 (68 percent) are on life-prolonging treatment.

“Initial findings look like it is promising in preventing HIV infections, so we are looking at the results,” said Dr Monir Islam, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative in Namibia.

According to international media reports, HVTN 702 is the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to be undertaken in South Africa, where more than 1 000 people are reportedly infected with HIV every day.

The first participant in the new trial was enrolled on October 26 and the results of the clinical trial are expected in 2020.

The new study is based on an earlier trial (RV 144) conducted in Thailand in 2009 that was led by the US Military HIV research programme and Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health.

The trials of RV 144 in Thailand were the first to show promise for development an HIV vaccine.
The study showed a modest reduction in HIV infection rates among 16 000 test subjects.
The latest trial aims to enroll 5 400 sexually active men and women, aged between 18 and 35, at sites across South Africa.

While a 31 percent drop in infections seen in the trial was not enough to signify a major breakthrough, it has paved the way for further investigations.

With the new trial, researchers hope to provide a higher sustainable protection rate, according to media reports.
Dr Islam explained that a vaccine goes through various phases, including the animal phase and human tests, before it can be accepted and these take years.

“If it’s good then it’s good for everybody, including Namibia, because as you see in Namibia we have HIV infections, particularly among young people. So if we can have this vaccine and vaccinate our young people then we will be able to reduce the transmission of HIV. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

Recently, the executive directive of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé, commended Namibia for making progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“You’re amongst the best in the world,” Sidibé said and acknowledged the fact that Namibia has shown the political will to combat the disease, with 67 percent of its national health resources dedicated towards the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday, Axel Tibinyane, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, said at a meeting with experts in the health sector that Namibia is doing well in controlling HIV/AIDS.
“The health system has been prepared for that and it’s a multi-sectoral approach,” he said.

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