The sun seems to be coming down slowly but surely on HIV/Aids as a landmark vaccine trial scientists hope will help eradicate the disease was launched in South Africa on Wednesday.
The new study, known as HVTN 702, will involve more than 5 400 sexually active men and women aged 18-35 in South Africa over the course of four years.
Two-thirds of those participating in the new trials are women, considered to be at highest risk. It is one of the biggest clinical Aids trials ever undertaken and the first new human HIV vaccine study in about a decade, reports said.
Professor Linda-Gail Bekker from the University of Cape Town (UCT), who is the new study’s co-chair, said discovering a vaccine against HIV was very difficult.
“Finding a vaccine that really works is like looking for the Holy Grail,” she said.
South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy, has about seven million people living with the virus.
More than 17 million Aids sufferers in the world, including some 3 million in South Africa, were said to be under the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programme at the end of 2015.
Although ARV medicaments have stopped Aids from being a death sentence, experts believe the epidemic can only be stopped with a vaccine.
Dr Bekker said since it was not possible to eradicate the disease completely, developing a vaccine that works would be a revolution in the war against the deadly disease.
She was ambivalent when asked about South Africa’s choice to test the new vaccine.
“It is a bittersweet thought because of the huge prevalence of HIV here. That’s bad. But on the positive side, the study is being done here because we can. We have the infrastructure, the experts and the participants who really want to see HIV vanquished,” Dr Bekker said.
South Africa has a 19.2% HIV infection rate, one of the highest in the world, as 1 000 people are believed to be infected every day, according to the UN.
(with the assitance of DW, additional reporting and final editing by Issa Sikiti)
Image by Shout Africa