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Vaccine trial begins
by Amin George Forji
2007-02-14 08:43:44
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The government of South Africa recently announced that it has approved plans for the first-ever HIV vaccine trial to be conducted in the country. According to the press release from the Ministry of Health, the vaccine known as the MRKAd5 HIV-1 trivalent vaccine, created by the drug company Merck & Co. Inc, would initially be tested on 3,000 HIV-negative men and women, aged between 18 and 35 years.

Pregnant women are excluded from the South African launch, dubbed ‘Phambili’, meaning ‘moving forward’. An international team led by Glenda Gray, MBBCH, FCPaeds, of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, will monitor the entire trial process.

The MRKAd5 HIV-1 trivalent vaccine is said to have already shown promise in former trial studies that were conducted in the smaller communities in the US, Australia, the Carribean and Africa during the early stages of its manufacture. To date, up to 1,800 people are said to have received the vaccine in these places. Further developments on the vaccine have since been jointly carried out by the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN). Two other bodies, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) worked out the large-scale trial initiatives of the drug.

The present vaccine is said to be free from any infection because it does not contain the live HIV, but rather strains of the three HIV genes. The significance of the strains enables the body to develop an immune response to subsequent cells containing the HIV virus that would then be destroyed upon recognition, as a consequence of exposure to the genes.

The first trials of the vaccine would be conducted at specific sites in five major cities notably Cape Town, Durban, Soweto, Klerksdorp and Medunsa. The NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D, qualified the launching initiative as an ongoing international collaboration to defeat AIDS, "We applaud the South Africans for bringing this important trial to fruition. This international partnership exemplifies the model of collaboration needed to defeat HIV/AIDS."

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D, the NIH Director, was also positive about the vaccine, "Our best hope of ending the AIDS epidemic is a safe and effective vaccine...To achieve that goal requires the concerted effort of governments, scientists and private industry as well as participation by well-informed volunteers."

South Africa currently has a population of 47 million people and up to 1,300,000 AIDS orphans are estimated to be living there, with the infection rate presently standing at one out of every nine persons, making it one of the world's most infected countries.

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