Speed is of the essence in dealing with HIV/Aids

Scientists and health officials meeting in Somerset West on Monday criticised what they believed was the cool response of the developed world towards investing in an African Aids vaccine.

“We will continue to challenge the apathy of the rich nations to investing in an Aids vaccine,” Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told delegates at the first forum of the African Aids Vaccine Programme (AAVP).

The development of a vaccine for Aids in Africa was critical and the South African government was committed to supporting such research, she said.

This research was not an ad hoc activity but was a key part of South Africa’s fight against the disease.

It had to go hand in hand with extensive prevention strategies, Tshabalala-Msimang said.

However, the fight against the disease and the search for a vaccine required resources that were way above what developing countries could afford.

Delegates heard that African vaccine research received only about two percent of resources directed towards such research worldwide—about $50-million.

Seth Berkley, the CEO and president of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, told delegates that research on Aids was far more advanced now than six years ago.

After 21 years since the disease was first identified no vaccine had completed full testing in humans.

Many promising vaccine approaches had not made it out of the laboratory, he said. However, results of an Aids vaccine efficacy were expected towards year end or early 2003.

“With 15 000 new infections a day, speed is of the essence,” Berkley said.

Research has shown that HIV sub-type prevalent in Southern Africa is the fastest growing variation of the disease.
The sub-type C in Southern Africa is more common than all other sub-types combined.

Presently adults in Southern Africa were 30 times more likely to be infected than in Brazil or India and 300 times more likely to be infected than adults in China, chairman of the Harvard Aids Institute, Max Essex, said.

World Health Organisation Africa director Ebrahim Samba said the formation of the AAVP translated the dream of a vaccine in Africa into a movement.

“But without resources the dream will be an idle promise.”

Many parties in Europe and the US were working on a vaccine, but none for the Southern African sub-type.

The developed world would have to be persuaded that investing in Africa was worthwhile, Samba said.

“It is impossible to think of getting Africa out of poverty, while HIV is with us.”

The European Commission spent about $1-billion a day in protecting agriculture in Europe, Samba said.

“It is not a dream or an idle hope to think that they will be sufficiently generous to assist Africa.”

The AAVP—chaired by South Africa’s Medical Research Council chairman Malegapuru Makgoba—is a network of scientist working to promote and facilitate HIV research and evaluation in Africa.

The programme was initiated in June 2000 when 45 African scientists pledged collective commitment to find a vaccine. - Sapa

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