As part of the efforts to stem further spread of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) infections in the world, scientists have launched the first HIV vaccine efficacy trial in South Africa. According to the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the trial, known as HVTN 702, is to test whether an experimental vaccine regime can safely prevent infection among South African adults.
Reports have it that the test involves a new version of the only HIV vaccine ever shown to provide some protection against the virus. The HVTN 702 will enroll 5,400 men and women, thus making it the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV every day.
NIAID says that 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, according to reports, delivered landmark results in 2009 when it found, for the first time, that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection. It states that 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 South Africa.
It is also reported that the experimental vaccine regime 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. But 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.
Available data show that 78 million people are infected with HIV globally. So far, about 35 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the first cases of HIV were reported. More than 18 million people are on life-saving HIV treatment and every country is on track to virtually eliminate HIV transmission from mother to child.
However, there are indications that many more people lack HIV diagnosis and are consequently missing out on treatment. Nigeria is said to account for more than a quarter of all new HIV infections among children globally and only half of pregnant women living with the virus are tested for the disease.
We commend the maiden trial of HIV vaccine in Africa and urge the scientists to do a thorough job. They should also strictly abide by the ethics of such trials. Any effort to cut down the spread of HIV, including this HIV vaccine trial, is welcome to us. We believe that the current effort by the scientists and other stakeholders in the fight against AIDS will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
While we celebrate the global effort to win the war against HIV/AIDS, our government should increase funding of HIV prevention programmes. Nigeria should do everything that is necessary to end mother-to-child transmission of the virus. We say this because mother-to-child transmission of HIV accounts for over 90 percent of new HIV infections among children. Our medical authorities should also scale up treatment and care for those already down with the condition.
With appropriate treatment, mother-to-child transmission of HIV will reduce. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from Cuba, a country that has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Cuba’s effort in this regard has been validated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Federal and State governments should muster the political will required to wage a relentless war against HIV and AIDS as Cuba and other countries have done.
The local government councils should join in this war against the disease to ensure its success at the grassroots. Let all hands be on deck to ensure that we join the rest of the world to end AIDS by 2030.