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First new HIV vaccine trial begins in Africa

By Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor
29 November 2016   |   4:16 am
Ahead of the World AIDS Day 2016, scientists have launched the first Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine efficacy study anywhere, for over seven years, in South Africa.

• ‘78m infected with virus, 35 died from AIDS-related illnesses’
• WHO to launch new guidelines on self-testing
• Nigeria accounts for 25% of new infections among kids

Ahead of the World AIDS Day 2016 on Thursday, scientists have launched the first Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine efficacy study anywhere, for over seven years, in South Africa.

According to the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the study, called HVTN 702, is to test whether an experimental vaccine regimen safely prevents infection among South African adults. It involves a new version of the only HIV vaccine candidate ever shown to provide some protection against the virus.

Also, the Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Michel Sidibé, in his message yesterday said: “Today, we commemorate World AIDS Day—we stand in solidarity with the 78 million people who have become infected with HIV and remember the 35 million who have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the first cases of HIV were reported.

“The world has committed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are seeing that countries are getting on the Fast-Track—more than 18 million people are on life-saving HIV treatment and country after country is on track to virtually eliminate HIV transmission from mother to child.”

HVTN 702 aims to enroll 5,400 men and women, making it the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV every day.

According to NIAID, the experimental vaccine regimen being tested in HVTN 702 is based on the one investigated in the RV144 clinical trial in Thailand led by the United States (U.S.) Military HIV Research Programme and the Thai Ministry of Health.

The Thai trial delivered landmark results in 2009 when it found for the first time that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection, albeit modestly. The new regimen aims to provide greater and more sustained protection than the RV144 regimen and has been adapted to the HIV subtype that predominates in southern Africa, a region that includes the country of South Africa.

The experimental vaccine regimen tested in the Thai trial was found to be 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5-year follow-up after vaccination. In the HVTN 702 study, the design, schedule and components of the RV144 vaccine regimen have been modified in an attempt to increase the magnitude and duration of vaccine-elicited protective immune responses.

Also, to mark World AIDS Day 2016, on Thursday, December 1, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will launch new guidelines on HIV self-testing to encourage countries to promote self-testing and empower more people to test for HIV.

WHO is also launching a new progress report “Prevent HIV: test and treat all – WHO action for country impact”. The report shows that more than 18 million people living with HIV have access to HIV treatment, but many more lack HIV diagnosis and consequently are missing out on treatment.

Meanwhile, Nigeria accounts for more than a quarter of all new HIV infections among children globally and only half of pregnant women living with virus are tested for the disease.

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