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Scientists move to end HIV by 2030, subject findings to global scrutiny

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Scientists have made advances in their quest to eliminate the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by the year 2030.

One of two separate studies published yesterday in the journal Nature, an experimental HIV vaccine that targets more strains of the virus than any other developed so far will start a late-stage clinical trial later in the year.

The researchers said the ‘mosaic’ vaccine, which incorporates genetic material from HIV strains from around the world, also seems to have the longest-lasting effects of any others tested in persons.

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Small trials of the mosaic vaccine in people showed that it prompted an immune response, such as the production of antibodies, against HIV. But starting in September, scientists will test it in thousands of people to assess whether the vaccine provides any protection against HIV infection.

The phase III trial will test the vaccine in transgender individuals and homosexuals in the Americas and Europe.The team running the trial, which they have named Mosaico, also discussed the project during the 10th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Mexico last week.

In the second study, health authorities have uncovered a surge in resistance to crucial HIV drugs.The study, published in Nature and in WHO report, revealed that surveys by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal that in the past four years, 12 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas have surpassed acceptable levels of drug resistance against two drugs: Efavirenz and Nevirapine that constitute the backbone of HIV treatment.

People living with HIV are routinely treated with antiretroviral therapy drugs, but the virus can mutate into a resistant form.The WHO conducted surveys from 2014 to 2018 in randomly selected clinics in 18 countries and examined the levels of resistance in people who had started HIV treatment during that period.

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Over 10 per cent of adults with the virus have developed resistance to the drugs in 12 nations. Above this threshold, it is not considered safe to prescribe the same HIV medicines to the rest of the population, because resistance could increase.

Meanwhile, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, United States, who is part of the Mosaico team, Susan Buchbinder, said adding an effective HIV vaccine to the arsenal of preventive measures currently available to protect people from infection, including condoms and an antiretroviral regimen called Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), could make a huge difference.

Also, an epidemiologist from the Centre for Technological, Biomedical and Environmental Research in Lima, Peru, one of Mosaico’s research sites, Jorge Sánchez, said some of the preventive methods — such as PrEP, which requires taking a daily pill — could be difficult for people to maintain or even access.

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