HIV/AIDS Prevention in ZambiaAntiretroviral therapy in Zambia has been one of the most effective HIV/AIDS prevention strategies in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of the CDC and the Zambian government, the spread of HIV/AIDS has decreased steadily by 13 percent since 2010.

HIV/AIDS Prevention in Zambia – Strategies

  • Education and Awareness: The effective response and resource allocation from the Zambian government through early HIV testing had a profound effect on the stigma surrounding the virus, encouraging more people to get tested. To that end, the government implemented the GIPA policy, emphasizing equality in medicine free from discrimination. In addition, the National Health Services Act is a government policy aimed at strengthening the structural power of Zambia’s medical field to increase its influence on rural communities. Aside from spearheading research, the act more clearly defines Zambia’s medical infrastructure with a power structure to allocate resources as effectively as possible. Integrating these government programs into the heart of Zambia’s most impoverished communities decreases the chances of an outbreak.
  • Antiretroviral Therapy: As mentioned above, the CDC is also active in Zambia, focusing on early antiretroviral therapy in highly affected areas like the Copperbelt and the western provinces. Within these parameters, 89 percent of those who began treatment immediately are less likely to spread the virus. Outreach programs to reach the more impoverished and marginalized groups have also been successful, with antiretroviral therapy increasing among children from 23 percent in 2009 to 79 percent as of 2019. The government has also promoted the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily course of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) taken by HIV-negative people which reduces the risk of contracting the virus.
  • Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission: Through the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission) plan, Zambia has made great strides aimed at preventing the spread of the virus from mother to offspring by providing lifelong antiretroviral therapy in Zambia. According to the CDC, through early education and effective policy implementation, the health protection agency has prevented 98 percent of HIV-exposed babies from contracting the virus.

Final Thoughts

The lack of access to basic health care and a comprehensive understanding of how HIV spreads, especially in rural communities, produces a hostile environment where exposure risk increases. Furthermore, high poverty and unemployment levels create a shaky foundation where socio-economic growth is key to eliminating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia. However, increased government spending has sprouted new testing facilities in rural areas, providing quality service where “…the Government is scaling up social protection by increasing allocations to the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) and Food Security Pack (FSP) program[s] and other poverty mitigation measures.”

The key to a structural change in Zambia’s HIV epidemic lies partially in assisting Zambia’s fairly large impoverished community. In addition, antiretroviral therapy in Zambia continues to be a focal point of the government’s long-term plan to eliminate the virus with increased spending on antiretroviral therapy and sex education in a bid to secure more prosperous futures for its citizens.

Adam Townsend
Photo: Pixabay

Cure for HIV
HIV/AIDS affects nearly 37 million individuals around the world every day, with close to 5,000 new infections daily. The virus’ reach extends around the world, affecting individuals in all six habitable continents. However, new research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center indicates that there may now be a cure for HIV. The journal, Nature Communications, published this research on July 2, 2019, and it has major implications; such a cure could bring relief to countless millions of individuals who currently suffer from the virus.

Treatment Development

Using mice as test subjects, researchers utilized a “long-acting, slow-effective release” antiretroviral (referred to as LASER ART) therapeutic strategy in conjunction with gene-editing (done with a tool called CRISPR-Cas9) to remove the HIV DNA from the mice’s cells. The HIV virus replicates by inserting its genome directly into the host cell’s genome. The LASER ART treatment stopped the HIV virus from replicating, while the gene-editing removed the HIV DNA from the infected genomes. Together, the two therapies completely removed HIV in roughly one-third of the mice tested. While that number may seem low, researchers say that there is potential that the treatment could be 100 percent effective on mice within two to three years. These results are a promising step towards a human cure for HIV.

HIV/AIDS Reduction & Potential Roadblocks

HIV affects millions of individuals every day around the world. Over 70 percent of affected individuals reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these individuals do not have the financial means to purchase HIV/AIDS treatments; given this, it is of the utmost importance to have a cheap, efficient, alternative solution to cure HIV/AIDS.

While the issue of HIV/AIDS is very prevalent in a number of countries, many positive steps have moved towards the reduction of disease prevalence in recent years. Such positive steps have included preventative measures such as educating individuals about HIV transmission as well as on the benefits of using condoms during sexual intercourse. There has also been work done to help increase the availability of health services that can give individuals a proper HIV diagnosis (roughly 50 percent of individuals with HIV do not know that they have the virus). The push for a cure, however, has proved difficult, and while this latest innovation brings great promise, there are some potential roadblocks to implementation. Assuming that humans can use the treatment, researchers must still access whether it will work for those in rural areas where the disease is often most prevalent. Finding an effective treatment is only one part of the problem. There is still a lack of trained individuals and sufficient infrastructure to help administer the treatments currently available and a cure for HIV will not solve that part of the problem.

Potential Impact on Global Poverty

If development goes smoothly, this new treatment has incredible potential to solve one of the biggest problems currently plaguing both the developed and developing world. While the treatment requires a lot of testing and work, researchers have taken an important step towards curing a disease that many previously believed to be incurable. In time, HIV may no longer be a lifelong burden, but rather something that someone can eradicate with two simple injections.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Flickr

HIV and AIDS in South Africa

South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV of any country in the world. South Africa comprises of approximately one-fifth of the 37 million people in the world living with HIV, with an estimated 7.2 million people living with HIV in 2017. This translates to a general population in which an estimated 18.8 percent of South Africans are HIV positive.

And yet, the country is making progress in reducing HIV and AIDS. In recent years, efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in South Africa have been ramped up. According to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the statutory research agency of South Africa, there were 231,000 new HIV infections in 2017, representing a 44 percent decrease since the last major study in 2012.

Largest Antiretroviral Drug Campaign in the World

South Africa has the largest antiretroviral drug campaign in the world, which its own domestic resources largely fund. In 2015, South Africa was investing more than 1.34 billion (US dollars) towards its efforts to combat HIV and AIDS. And yet, it was not always like this; the South African government regarding and treating HIV and AIDS as a major and important public health issue and one to which it allocates resources to is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The government spearheaded this change, at least in part, by the exit of former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who headed the government between June 14, 1999, and September 24, 2008. He had a track record of aversion to the combating of HIV as a public health issue and largely turned a blind eye to the issue. ‘“Many people do not remember that in 2000 there were only 90 people in South Africa on treatment,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.” When Mbeki left office in 2008, a tide turned and HIV and AIDS became to be regarded in the milieu and in public policy as a major and important public health issue, and now approximately four million people are receiving antiretroviral drug treatment in South Africa.

The 90 90 90 Plan

The 90 90 90 Plan summarizes some of the efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in South Africa. This plan aimed to test 90 percent of people so they would know their HIV status, followed by 90 percent of those diagnosed receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression.

South Africa reached the first of the 90-90-90 targets, with 90 percent of people aware of their status, jumping up from only 66.2 percent in 2014. Of the affected, presently 61 percent of adults (people between ages 15-49) and 58 percent of children are on antiretroviral treatment, and so these current numbers are not at target though they are continuing to trend upwards. Life expectancy has seen a significant increase over the past several years, largely due to the efforts launched with antiretroviral therapy. There has been an improvement in life expectancy from 61.2 years in 2010 to 67.7 years in 2015.  With an increase of nearly 10 percent in just five years, one cannot overstate South Africa’s success in reducing HIV and AIDS within the country.

– Lacy Rab
Photo: Flickr

The 3030 ProjectIn 2014, musician Ryan Lewis, a member of the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hip-hop duo, became the first to donate to the 30/30 Project, the project that he helped his mother, Julie, kickstart. As a thirty-year survivor of HIV, Julie Lewis designed the project with the goal of building thirty healthcare facilities worldwide. It is virtually impossible for people living in poverty to receive treatments, considering “Just one month’s supply of a typical antiretroviral drug costs more than the annual income of most Malawians.” But, these new facilities will give people access to treatments for life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The Lewis family saw the injustice and pledged to make a positive change. After all, their motto for the project states, “Healthcare is a human right.”

Lewis and his musical partner, Macklemore, started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $100,000. This went towards the first phase of the project, which is building a non-profit health center in Neno District, Malawi. The campaign exceeded its goal, raising over $150,000. So, the excess will be used for the next phase, which is a non-profit clinic in Kangundo, Kenya.

Dambe Health Center

Just like they promised, the 30/30 Project completed construction of the Dambe Health Center in the Neno District of Malawi in August 2015.

Partners in Health opened the clinic in March 2016. “This health center serves a community of 30,000 people…by addressing the need for free, basic primary care and lowering the barrier of access.” Since its launch four-and-a-half years ago, sixteen health care centers have been built. Six are currently under construction and eight are in the fundraising stage.

No Mom Left Behind

In addition to their main goal, the 30/30 Project launched its “No Mom Left Behind” campaign. The funds raised, build and maintain maternity wards in impoverished regions. Since 2017, they were able to build a new maternity ward and renovate a clinic in Togo, West Africa. For the 2019 fundraising year, donations will be used to construct a maternity ward in Kenya. It will offer HIV counseling, testing and medication, immunizations and family planning. The need for these services is high, as one in forty-two women die during childbirth. Sixty percent of women deliver their child at home, far from the helping hands of medical professionals. Construction on a nursing school in Uganda is already underway, with the hopes of training students to properly handle patients and any problems that may arise during childbirth.

As a family who has experienced the heartache associated with a loved one’s positive HIV diagnosis, the Lewises know how important it is to receive proper treatment. This is especially true for expectant mothers, who have a twenty-five percent chance of transmitting the disease to their baby. However, treatments could reduce that likelihood to less than two percent.

Ryan Lewis has made a splash in the music scene. Over the last five years, he has also made major strides in the world of philanthropy. Due to his generosity and perseverance, thousands of people in Africa and India are receiving life-saving treatments that they were previously unable to afford. With continued support, the 30/30 Project will help provide healthcare to many other underserved communities.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Flickr

Why HIV Treatment Is Becoming A Reality For People Everywhere
Just last year, it was announced that, for the first time in history, 50 percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS were receiving treatment. This landmark achievement is a massive process with different factors worldwide, but it’s all an interconnected humanitarian struggle against this life-threatening disease. 
As the year moves closer to 2019, it’s important to evaluate the measures being taken to keep the epidemic at bay and to take a closer look at the future of HIV/AIDS treatment worldwide.

A Survey of The World

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, reported in 2017 that, of the 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 19.5 million are now receiving life-saving treatment in the form of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

This trend has risen steadily since 2014 when UNAIDS announced that, if countries could meet the following goals for 2030, the global HIV/AIDS epidemic would be eliminated. Some of these goals are:

  • 90 percent of those with HIV are aware they carry the virus
  • 90 percent of the previous group begins using ARVs for treatment
  • 90 percent of those receiving treatment continue their treatment and reduce the levels of the virus in their system to levels below standard testing baselines.

These goals may seem as though it sets the bar high. However, after calculating the data from 168 countries in 2017, the world was already at 75-79-81. Several countries are doing exceedingly well: Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, Botswana, Cambodia, Denmark and the United Kingdom.

These nations have managed to keep the virus in 73 percent of the carrying population suppressed. This means that, after receiving HIV/AIDS treatment, 73 percent of individuals have such low levels of the virus in their blood that the disease is no longer transferable by them to another person.

An Uncertain Future

Though the world has made tremendous progress in recent years in controlling the number of HIV patients, much of this progress has to do with aid provided by the U.S. In 2018, the Trump Administration has been proposing cuts to the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program. As one of America’s major global health initiatives, PEPFAR is responsible for HIV/AIDS treatment to millions of patients around the world.

President Trump’s budget proposal would strip PEPFAR’s funding from $6 billion to $5 billionThis is significant, as this program benefits those living along east and southern Africa. This area contains the highest concentration of those living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. The $1 billion cut would result in 1.8 million deaths over the next ten years in South Africa and The Ivory Coast alone. Those currently receiving ARV treatment will not lose their access to the life-saving medications they need because of the budget cuts.

Though the outcome for the future is uncertain, currently the world has been succeeding in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and HIV/AIDS treatment is becoming a reality worldwide. If countries worldwide can stay on track in meeting UNAIDS guidelines, then the global community may see this notorious virus eliminated by 2030.

Jason Crosby
Photo: Flickr

HIV in the Philippines
HIV/AIDS in the Philippines continues to be a growing epidemic with an average of 68,000 individuals currently living with HIV, and fewer than half of them are being treated with antivirals. The Philippines now has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Southeast Asia and in the world, reporting to have about 1,021 new cases of HIV/AIDS infected people in January 2018, with 17 percent of those newly infected individuals already showing signs of advanced infection. Luckily, the Philippines government is taking action to reduce HIV in the Philippines.

How the Philippines Are Addressing HIV/AIDS

In August 2018, a government organization called The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) signed a partnership with UNAIDS in order to fast track the reduction of the number of new HIV/AIDS infections within the country.

UNAIDS states that for the past seven years, annual, new HIV infections have more than doubled, reaching to about 12,000 in 2017. Because 80 percent of HIV cases are reported within 70 cities in Manila, LCP and local governments in the Philippines are taking direct action regarding this epidemic, pledging to eradicate this disease.

According to Laarni L. Cayetano, the National Chair of LCP, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Philippines is definitely an issue, stating it “‘needs urgent action among local governments, especially since key populations at risk of infections reside mostly in cities.'”

The Philippines are already beginning to address this issue by starting more innovative services to prevent HIV. Quezon City, for example, has continued to increase HIV funding since 2012 in order to build three clinics that now provide rapid, judgment-free HIV testing and counseling for those who are infected.

The Department of Health

The Department of Health (DOH) has launched a tri-beauty pageant, specifically a “Lhive Free Campaign,” in Quezon City in order to find ambassadors in the prevention of HIV/AIDS among youth. With DOH’s desire to reduce HIV in the Philippines, this campaign serves as a message to the people as well as provides free, early detection methods and free medications needed for those infected.

Beauty Queen and Actress Kylie Verzosa, who was crowned Miss International in 2016 and is currently a DOH ambassador, also supports this campaign and pageant. Although Verzosa is known for her advocacy on mental health, she also shares a passion to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS and promote its prevention. She sees HIV as a physical, emotional, and mental health concern, considering that depression and anxiety can be developed in an HIV patient struggling to live with this condition.

The DOH and World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines previously held free, anonymous HIV screenings in the workplace for more than 400 people, DOH staff members and walk-ins alike. They provided eight different stations located throughout the DOH grounds. This service not only helped to promote HIV/AIDS testing as a strategy to fight against this epidemic but it is also important, according to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque, for DOH staff members to know their own HIV status as they are encouraging others to seek treatment.

Other Groups Working to Prevent HIV/AIDS

Other departments and organizations are working to help decrease the HIV/AID epidemic in the Philippines. Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at The National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the University of the Philippines, reports that the NIH is researching and working on the molecular epidemiology of HIV viruses that appear to be drug-resistant. The NIH is also offering a variety of services for those infected in this country, such as HIV drug-resistance testing and genotyping, helping to end the further increase of the disease.

The Human Rights Watch also provided recommendations regarding the government’s approach to reduce HIV in the Philippines. The group suggests implementing further HIV prevention education within schools, providing access to condoms, destigmatizing the infection and reinitializing harm reduction programs that focus on injecting drug use.

The LCP partnership with UNAIDS serves as an opportunity and a push to help end the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country. As governments vow to reduce HIV in the Philippines, improvements in the health of the people the country will increase substantially. Advocating for and addressing this issue will not only encourage citizens to seek available treatments but it can also prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines in the future.

Charlene Frett
Photo: Flickr

 

UNAIDS: Efforts to End HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa
UNAIDS is the international movement working to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide by 2030, which aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Its fight against HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa has seen encouraging results.

In 2016, UNAIDS created the 90-90-90 targets for 2020, aiming to have 90 percent of all people with HIV know they are HIV positive, 90 percent of those who know their status receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and 90 percent of those receiving treatment show viral suppression (having no symptoms of HIV/AIDS).

HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa a Main Target of UNAIDS

East and Southern Africa is the region of the world most impacted by HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS estimates that 19.4 million people in that region have HIV/AIDS. However, since the creation of the 90-90-90 targets and the subsequent implementation of more rigorous prevention and treatment programs, tremendous progress has been made towards curbing the transmission of and deaths from HIV/AIDS.

These statistics show how East and Southern Africa are faring in each of the 90-90-90 categories:

  1. Knowing Status
    According to a UNAIDS Special Analysis from 2017, in 2016, 14.7 million of an estimated 19.4 million people with HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa knew their status. That is 76 percent, up from 72 percent the previous year.
  2. Receiving Antiretroviral Therapy
    Seven million people with HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa are on ART. This means that 60 percent of all people with HIV (up from 53 percent in 2015)—or 79 percent of those who know their status—are receiving treatment.
  3. Showing Viral Suppression
    Seven million people on ART in this region show suppressed viral loads. Thus, 50 percent of people with HIV in East and Southern Africa (up from 45 percent in 2015)—which is equivalent to 83 percent of those receiving ART—show viral suppression.

Both the infection rate and death rate from HIV/AIDS are improving. Infection rates peaked between 1995 and 1998, when UNAIDS estimates that 1.7 million people in East and Southern Africa were newly infected each year. The decline began in 1990 and has continued. In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that 790,000 people contracted HIV/AIDS, down from 850,000 a year before.

Deaths from HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa peaked about a decade later than infection rates did, with approximately one million people dying annually between 2004 and 2006. In 2010, 720,000 people died from HIV/AIDS. By 2016, that number had dropped by nearly 50 percent to 420,000 deaths. As UNAIDS notes, it is extraordinary to see a death rate cut nearly in half in just six years.

Much of this recent success must be attributed to the work of UNAIDS, which is working to make testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS available to everyone. Its programs specifically target young women, pregnant mothers-to-be and males who, because of the stigma around HIV/AIDS, are often the least likely to receive proper treatment.

Multi-Pronged Efforts Reach Most Vulnerable Populations

Efforts aimed at young females including getting comprehensive sex education into all primary and secondary schools in East and Southern Africa, encouraging girls to stay in school (and away from dangerous sex work), and providing easily accessible female and reproductive healthcare.

UNAIDS is also helping to equip maternity clinics with what they need to ensure that all pregnant women will be aware of their HIV status and are able to get the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy.

Along with working to end the stigma around HIV/AIDS and providing accessible places to receive testing and treatment, UNAIDS aims to distribute 30 male condoms to every man living in the region each year. It also offers voluntary male circumcision programs, which can help prevent female to male HIV transmission.

East and Southern Africa may be the region most affected by HIV/AIDS, but UNAIDS is doing tremendous work towards achieving its 90-90-90 goals by 2020 and its goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030. Continuing to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS and making testing and treatment increasingly available will ensure that these successes continue.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Treating HIV in Saint PetersburgIf Saint Petersburg were the same today as it was ten years ago, it would be known as one of the top five cities in the Russian Federation affected by the HIV virus. However, it is now the fourteenth most affected city. Treating HIV has been a top priority for the city, and as a result it has been able to get the epidemic under control. Saint Petersburg is the first city in the Russian Federation to achieve a steady decline in HIV infections, and fewer people are becoming infected with the virus throughout the city.

Last year, about 1,750 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Saint Petersburg alone, a number that was even higher in the years before. In total, 42,000 people in the city were living with HIV. The city was able to get 80 percent of the people affected access to services at the Center for AIDS Prevention and Control.

The Center for AIDS Prevention and Control provides antiretroviral therapy (medicine that directly treats HIV), useful information and specialized medical care as well as prevention medicines for both pre-exposure and post-exposure.

Affected citizens in Saint Petersburg can also visit the city AIDS center, where they are able to get new syringes, sterile equipment and other preventative tools such as condoms. Saint Petersburg has also partnered with community organizations that have contributed to treating HIV by testing women for HIV, giving out free condoms and talking to consultants. Unfortunately, Saint Petersburg is one of the only cities in the Russian Federation that provides affected citizens with such a wide range of prevention and treatment.

An important factor in reducing the number of people affected by HIV was the availability of quick HIV testing. That way, someone who is affected can know immediately to begin taking antiretroviral therapy to both treat the disease and prevent any new infections.

The government has been supporting an outdoor advertising campaign teaching residents about HIV prevention services and public service announcements. The advertising has three main messages regarding HIV: the importance of testing, the availability of treatment and the elimination of stigma and discrimination against people with HIV.

Saint Petersburg is a good example of a city that was greatly affected by the HIV epidemic, but through a variety of preventative and treatment measures was able to take control of the epidemic and achieve a drastic shift in the number of people diagnosed.

– Chloe Turner

Photo: Flickr

HIV in Africa
Big data is buzzing in the healthcare sector. As more and more data becomes available, analysts are looking for ways to improve the healthcare industry. While developed nations, with their multitude of activity trackers and smart devices, are better positioned to leverage big data, developing nations are also taking advantage of the rapidly growing pool of information being recorded.

The International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University was clearly aware of the value of data when it proposed the Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA) Project. In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ICAP has been gathering data to measure the level of success against HIV in Africa. With the help of the ministries of health in the affected countries, they have been conducting surveys and diagnostic tests to measure national HIV incidence, pediatric prevalence and viral suppression. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia were the first countries to release their survey and test results. Over the next several years, 17 other countries will participate in the project and publish their findings.

So far, the results have been encouraging. The data indicates that the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is achieving success against HIV in Africa. PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to combat any single disease internationally. If the results from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia are early indicators, then the PEPFAR has been well worth the investment.

The initial results of the PHIA Project indicate that these countries are on track to achieve the 90-90-90 targets set by United States Agency for International Development (USAIDS). The goal is to have 90 percent of HIV patients diagnosed, 90 on antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent with adequate viral suppression by 2020. Models predict that the AIDS epidemic can be ended by 2030 if these goals are reached.

In Zimbabwe and Zambia, the treatment and viral suppression goals are almost a reality; more than 85 percent of patients are on treatment and virally suppressed. In Malawi, the viral suppression target has already been reached. The percentage of patients on treatment is just shy of 90 percent. Ninety percent and 86 percent of women and men, respectively, are on treatment. In all three countries, though, improvements in diagnosis are needed. Three out of every 10 patients are unaware of their status.

However, these early indicators of success against HIV in Africa are not signs that there is no more work to be done. Rather, in the words of Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, the director of ICAP, “Now more than ever, we have to keep our foot on the pedal and push even harder.”

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

HIV Vaccine Trial Begins in South Africa
A new HIV vaccine trial has begun in Johannesburg, South Africa where experts are cautiously optimistic about its potential for success.

The trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is based on a trial that took place in Thailand and yielded moderately successful results. Thailand trial’s results were controversial because it was tested on a segment of the population with a low risk for infection. The trial in South Africa hopes to remedy this by using members of their own population which have a uniquely high rate of infection and thus puts wider swaths of the population at risk.

The HIV/AIDS death rate has greatly decreased with the increasingly widespread availability of antiretrovirals, yet infection rates continue to increase. Scientists and doctors believe that a vaccine is the only possible measure to successfully eradicate the disease, and many of them believe that this trial could be the beginning of the end for a disease which continues to infect more than 1,000 people daily in South Africa alone.

CNN reports that an estimated one adolescent becomes infected every two minutes worldwide. According to Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there is no reason to believe that the HIV/AIDS crisis is over. In the U.S., infection rates have remained steady for the past 15 years in spite of prevention efforts.

Because of the high HIV infection rate in South Africa, scientists believe that an effectiveness rate of 50-60 percent would be sufficient to enter negotiations with drugmakers, although this is significantly lower than most other vaccines.

The study will enroll 5,400 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 who are not infected with HIV. They will receive five shots of the vaccine and three boosters over the course of the study, which is expected to yield results in 2020. It aims to provide greater protection from infection and has been adapted for the HIV subtype that is found in southern Africa.

This trial, which is the first HIV vaccine trial in nearly a decade and is only the seventh full-scale human trial in the world, has been met with both skepticism and optimism. Glenda Gray, the president of the South African Medical Research Council, is leading the study. Although she admits that there is no guarantee that the trial will be successful, she remains optimistic about the results.

The HIV vaccine trial in Thailand was run by the U.S. Army, whose Dr. Nelson Michael called the trial “A signpost for vaccine development. This was a yes-we-can moment: the opportunity to become enthusiastic. The door has cracked open. We are all going to try to collectively crash through it.”

Kenya, who will be monitoring the trial closely, is expected to begin a similar trial early next year.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr