Global researchers bring HIV vaccine discussions to Rwanda

A participant during a recent conference that discussed AIDS prevention wears a T-shirt calling on people to get tested for HIV. / Sam Ngendahimana

Global experts are going to share research on HIV vaccines and cures in a meeting that will bring together over ten thousand delegates in Kigali in December.

Since 1987, more than 30 HIV candidate vaccines have been tested. Most of these trials have been conducted in the United States and Europe, but several have also been conducted in developing countries (Brazil, China, Cuba, Haiti, Kenya, Peru, Thailand, Trinidad, and Uganda).

The results have provided important scientific information to develop newer generations of candidate vaccines with a better ability to induce anti-HIV specific immune responses.

The meeting dubbed the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) will bring together the world’s leading scientists, policymakers, activists, people living with HIV, government leaders – as well as a number of heads of state and civil society representatives.

Running under the theme “AIDS-free Africa- Innovation, Community, and Political Leadership”, the conference will look to engage stakeholders to join efforts in committing to achieve an AIDS-free Africa.

Speaking to journalists in Kigali, Prof. John Idoko, a clinician and President of the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) said that there are a number of trials that are taking place in the world for HIV vaccines and information about what has been happening will be discussed in Kigali during the meeting,

“Over a decade ago, there was a vaccine trial that was done in Thailand and it gave us some hope since they found it to be thirty percent effective. Since then, there has been a lot of work going on, trying to ensure that we can get other candidates that will perform better,” he said.

“There are some large trials that are going on - even around Africa. And one of the things that have come out is that the effectiveness has been raised to 39 percent. We need 60 percent effectiveness to say that the vaccine can be used by everybody,” he added.

Among other things, the meet will also discuss advancements in pre-exposure prophylaxis. Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP is the use of an antiretroviral medication to prevent the acquisition of HIV infection by uninfected persons.

About HIV vaccine

According to information from the World Health Organisation, HIV vaccine development is complicated by the incredible variability of the virus, and in particular its envelope protein at both the individual and population level.

The evolving number of virus subtypes and recombination renders vaccine development targeting the viral envelope constituents very difficult.

Encouragingly, data from the first HIV vaccine trial to show a positive protective signal were released in 2009.

Analysis of this trial that was performed in Thailand showed 30 percent effectiveness. Although this result is not enough to qualify the vaccine for licensing, yet, according to the WHO, the trial provided very useful pointers for a way forward.

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