South African Scientists Lead Key HIV Vaccine Trial

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says the start of HIV vaccine trials are a major boost to the fight against Aids.

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The Deputy President said this when he answered questions from members of the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday.

“The global struggle to end Aids recently received a huge boost with the start this month of what we regard as ground-breaking HIV vaccine trials in SA.

“This vaccine trial is regarded by many as the most scientific study in the world on HIV.

“But what is significant about it, is that it is led by South African scientists in almost all aspects of this research,” he said.

The Deputy President said the research and the trial of the HIV vaccine will enrol 4 500 HIV negative South Africans between the ages of 18 years and 35 years in 18 sites across the country.

He said the research will be done under the strictest ethical standards for scientific research over a period of 20 months.

Half the participants will receive five doses of the vaccine, while the other remaining 2 250 will receive a placebo.

“The participants will be followed up for three years to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine.

“The estimated costs of the trial is around R135 million and this is being done with a partnership of private sector players and the public sector,” he said.

The Deputy President told NCOP members that the first trial using a similar vaccine was completed in Thailand seven years ago and reduced HIV transmission by 39%.

“In our trial, which is going to get underway, scientists expect the vaccine to be at least 50% effective but hope that it will be much more than 50%.

“The leading role that South Africa is playing in vaccine research is the result of ongoing investment in HIV vaccine development over many years,” he said.

How the programme will be funded

The Deputy President said in 1999, a programme called the South African Aids vaccine initiative was established through funding from the Departments of Health and Science and Technology, with the support of development partners in the private sector.

He said the initiative has done much to lay the ground for the current trials that government has embarked on.

“Today, all government funding for HIV vaccine research is channelled through the SA Medical Research Council.

“These include earmarked funds from National Treasury and funds from the Department of Science and Technology.

“The total investments in Aids vaccine are around R35 million for 2014/15 and R31 million for 2015 to 2016,” he said.

The Deputy President said in addition to this, the research has received support from the private sector, with the US National Institute of Health is contributing more than R1 billion.

No complacency in HIV/Aids prevention

The Deputy President said the HIV vaccine would become the most effective prevention method to reduce HIV infections, the results of the trial will only start coming through around 2022.

Given the current rate of new HIV infections, particularly amongst adolescent girls and young women, South Africa cannot afford to wait for the results of this trial.

“There is work to be done right now.

“We need to intensify our prevention efforts and expand our treatment programmes. We need to act with a good measure of urgency to change high risk behaviour and encourage condom use, monogamous relationships, pre-exposure prophylaxis and male medical circumcision.

“The start of this vaccine trial gives us great hope but it should never make us complacent,” he said.

He said government has no choice but to massively increase its global investment in HIV treatment as well as prevention in order to end Aids by 2030.

“All these great ground breaking developments are done under the auspices of the SA Aids Vaccine Initiative.

“The account I have given is testament to the progress we have made against the benchmarks that we set ourselves as we set up the vaccine initiative.

“The developments are quite ground breaking and are exciting on their extent but we need to remain focussed and ensure that we do indeed defeat this pandemic of HIV and this is but one of those efforts that we have to make in order to defeat this pandemic,” he said.

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