Aids vaccine in 'seven to 10 years'

Expectations of an Aids vaccine within seven to 10 years are realistic, South African Medical Research Council chairman Malegapuru Makgoba told an African conference on Monday.

The first meeting of the African Aids Vaccine Programme (AAVP), in Somerset West, close to Cape Town, is aiming to define a plan of action for the next seven years and to raise $233-million for the programme.

The programme, a network of scientists working to promote and facilitate HIV research and evaluation in Africa, was initiated in June 2000 when 45 African scientists pledged collective commitment to find a vaccine. “There is light now in the dark continent,” Makgopa told journalists.

Preliminary phase-one vaccine trials have been held in Kenya and Uganda, and Makgopa said similar trials could start in South Africa soon once regulatory approval was approved.

But the AAVP aimed to guard against exploratory and “fly-by-night research that tends to come into this region in various forms”, he warned.

UN Vaccine Initiative co-ordinator Jose Esparza said the first results of much more advanced phase-three trials, conducted in the United States and Thailand, should be available in February or March next year.

“This will be the first opportunity to have an HIV vaccine, but nobody can say how effective that vaccine will be,” he said.

Esparza noted that although Africa accounted for 70% of the world’s HIV infections, African vaccine research received less than two percent—about $50-million—of resources directed towards such research worldwide.

“There is a feeling that Africa cannot contribute to research ... but that model is not acceptable in the case of HIV,” he said.

And South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang vowed to “continue to question and challenge the apathy of the rich nations to investing in vaccines for Africa.”

The HIV strain prevalent in Southern Africa is the fastest growing variation of the disease, and adults in Southern Africa are 30 times more likely to be infected than in Brazil or India and 300 times more likely to be infected than adults in China, said the chairman of the Harvard Aids Institute, Max Essex.

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