“The world's best long-term hope for ending AIDS”

Written by  Winnie Agnes Botha

Mentioning HIV vaccines at the AIDS 2018 conference gives delegates a sense of hope that maybe the world is about to deal with the HIV and AIDS pandemic once and for all. HIV vaccine is arguably the world’s best long term hope for ending AIDS.

Dr. Dan Namarika, PS, Ministry of Health Dr. Dan Namarika, PS, Ministry of Health

The HIV Vaccine Trials Network-HVTN- leads the HIV vaccines development globally. The network has been working in four continents with 44 clinical trial sites searching for an effective HIV vaccine.  


This scientific journey was embarked on over five years ago and, through the HVTN, the HIV Prevention Trials Network started vaccine trials which mainly focus on introducing a neutralizing antibody, called VRC01, into the human body intravenously. These antibodies, which are re-introduced into the body through the same style every 8 weeks, prevent the acquisition of HIV.


At the AIDS 2018, updating delegates on the recent developments about the vaccine, the HVTN argued that “the HIV vaccine regimen tested in its HVTN 100 trial, which enrolled 252 HIV-negative adults, produced a strong immune response”. This, according to the researchers, is an early indication that protection from HIV acquisition is possible through the vaccine. The first trials, dubbed the HVTN 100 trial, results have motivated the network to start an advanced large scale HIV Vaccine efficacy called the two phase 2b.


Dr. Myron Cohen, of the HIV Prevention Trials Network, told this reporter that these clinical trials use and utilize an antibody developed at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center and are a global first.  The two phase 2b clinical trials have recruited and enrolled participants who are vulnerable to HIV infection from communities in the United States, Brazil, Peru, Switzerland, and sub-Saharan Africa and Dr. Cohen says, results from this large scale would determine the future of the HIV vaccine in as far as efficacy and effectiveness are concerned.


Dr. Myron Cohen 


This latest large scale efficacy trial has so far recruited 14 HIV negative women in Malawi and 5400 HIV negative women and men in South Africa aged 18-35 yearsMfor the African part. 


Malawi’s involvement


The Malawian team, even though coming from a country where much progress has been made, apart from giving a chance to other delegates to learn from their success stories, observes with keen interest on what is latest in the HIV and AIDS field.


Dalitso Kuphanga from ActionAid says the new knowledge on HIV both scientific and behavioural change should be embraced if Malawi is to continue shining when it comes to the pandemic.
Malawi has been participating in different scientific HIV prevention investigations which are mostly clinically observed.  The University of North Carolina-UNC has been the lead institution in these trials in Malawi. Dr. Dan Namarika is the PS in the ministry of Health and he proudly speaks of how Malawi is getting involved in trying to find scientific solutions to the global pandemic.


Although Malawi has made strides in fighting the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the country still features highly on the list of countries with high HIV and AIDS burden. With 36000 HIV new infections a year, 1Million people live with the virus in Malawi.  Dr. Namarika told this reporter that Malawi is one of the countries that places hope in the vaccine trials as a long-term solution.


“This gives us hope although the large scale results will take time to come out, but still this breathes hope in us and for now we concentrate on testing and treating our populations,” Namarika said.

Namarika also added that for now only 14 participants have been enrolled in Malawi, but more participants especially those at risk of acquiring the virus.

About HIV vaccine


 Trial HIV Vaccine


The HIV Prevention Trials Network uses antibodies to make human beings safe from HIV. Antibodies are proteins that are part of the immune system. The network takes time to explain how antibodies work in trying to deal with the HIV vaccine myths. “Antibodies are specific for each different foreign invader so for example, an HIV antibody will not recognize or work against a flu virus”.


The network’s researchers have discovered that some people have rare HIV antibodies, called broadly neutralizing antibodies, which work against many different strains of HIV making these people fight the virus naturally. These scientists imitate these antibodies in laboratories. These copies, imitated through lab, are called monoclonal antibodies. Therefore these studies are testing whether giving people monoclonal antibodies before they are exposed to HIV can prevent an infection, “because these antibodies will already be circulating in the person’s blood stream, ready to fight HIV”.


Those behind the vaccine research though argue that the downside of this method is that the antibodies do not last very long in the body. People would have to get regular injections or infusions of these antibodies.

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