May 6, 2011 - The recent commencement of AIDS vaccine trials on 40 babies in Kenya raises hope for discovery of a way to stop the spread of one of the most serious diseases ever to affect humanity. As an organisation working with communities to improve health in Africa, AMREF has first-hand knowledge and experience of the effects of HIV and AIDS on those who are infected and affected, particularly in the remotest and poorest parts of the continent.
Discovery of an AIDS vaccine would prevent a great deal of suffering for thousands of men, women and children in Africa and around the world. AMREF is therefore heartened by any progress made towards finding a vaccine or cure for HIV and AIDS.
The new vaccine trials seem to increase the prospects for such a find and have elicited a great deal of excitement. However, we urge caution over raising too much hope over the outcome of the trials. The experiment by the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) is only the latest in a series of AIDS vaccine trials that have been conducted in several countries in Africa and around the world. So far, results from all these trials have been disappointing. The efficacy of the Kenyan vaccine is not yet known, and it is therefore not scientifically possible to estimate what the outcome will be. Moreover, it takes at least 10 years after the discovery of an effective vaccine for it to be released for general public use.
Efforts by governments, civil society organisations and partners to stop the spread of HIV and manage infections have largely involved preventive and treatment programmes, as well as measures to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. These initiatives have been successful in varying degrees across the world. Fewer people are becoming infected and fewer are dying from the disease, mainly as a result of expanded use of treatment. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, deaths from HIV have declined significantly – by about 20 per cent in the past 10 years. However, there is still a long way to go for the continent, which is home to two-thirds of people living with HIV.
With the excitement generated by the trials, there is a danger that people will become less cautious in the belief that discovery of a vaccine is imminent. This may not only erase the gains made through years of hard work, but will put humanity at even greater risk of being consumed by HIV. Until discovery of an effective vaccine is scientifically confirmed and such a drug is made available for public use, it is important that we increase and intensify all efforts to prevent and treat HIV.
Dr Teguest Guerma