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SA to test ground-breaking HIV vaccine trial

South Africa is trialling a new HIV Vaccine
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – Wednesday 30 November 2016, Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, Protocol Co-Chair for HVTN 702 and Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre during the launch of a major study to test the efficacy of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection at the Emavundleni Research Centre in Old Crossroads, Cape Town. Photo by Roger Sedres/ImageSA

SOUTH Africa on Wednesday (World Aids Day) started a new and ground-breaking trial that will basically test the effectiveness of a vaccine aimed at permanently preventing HIV. Source: https://goo.gl/Q8MfFW

The announcement, in Cape Town, rightfully coincided with the World Aids Day, a calendar date that is used worldwide to concentrate on ways to prevent and eradicate the sexually transmitted disease.

The new preventative vaccine trial, known scientifically as HVTN 702 is the only one of its kind in the world and will only (for now) be conducted in South Africa, something many in the health industry sector have regarded as an achievement and a voice of confidence by the worldwide health industry. The trial, which is one of the widest in the sector, required at least 5000 South Africans from different communities across the country and conducted in different venues from suburbia to the townships and rural areas.

Speaking on morning radio on Wednesday, the protocol Co-chair for the HVTN 702 study Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker said a preventative HIV vaccine is “the holy grail of prevention for the disease.” She said, “We know that we won’t get complete control or even eradication of the HIV epidemic unless we have a vaccine that can protect people and make sure they don’t become infected.”

“We’re very optimistic that we’re going to be able to push that vaccine efficacy up to a range where regulators will be very interested to licence, and if we can licence a vaccine we really do begin to see a game changer in the HIV epidemic.”

Also on Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomed HIV self-testing (HIVST) and partner notification, and fully endorsed any efforts to implement self-testing more widely and make self-tests freely available in the public sector. Before this came to the fore, South Africa was also one of the first countries in the world to get Truvada, an HIV prevention drug, you can see this article that was published in this platform around last year. Source: http://www.i-health.co.za/truvada-hiv-rescue/

The vaccine, HVTN 702, is based on one that was trialled in Thailand previously. The results, released some seven years previously, showed that at 31.2% effective, the vaccine could only modestly prevent HIV infection. It is believed that with new technological advancements the updated one and the one to be used in South Africa could provide greater protection. http://www.southafrica.info/about/health/hiv-vaccine-trial-011216%20.htm#.WEFBtR8xDIU

But exactly how does this miracle vaccine work?

According to a report, those who volunteer to be part of the study need to be sexually active adults between the ages of 18 and 35, and be HIV-negative – will be randomly assigned the vaccine or a placebo. In a single year, they will be given five injections.

“The safety of HVTN 702 study participants will be closely monitored throughout the trial, and participants will be offered the standard of care for preventing HIV infection,” said the NIH.

“Study participants who become infected with HIV in the community will be referred to local medical providers for care and treatment and will be counselled on how to reduce their risk of transmitting the virus.”

Thembi Dlamini, 29, was screened at a Durban clinic to participate in the trial. She told The Washington Post she wanted to volunteer so that she could prevent the next generation from having the same experience she did when she saw her sister die of Aids-related illness.

Results from the trial are expected in late 2020.

There are 3-million South Africans currently on the publicly funded HIV treatment programme. In May 2016, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that antiretroviral medicine would be made available to all HIV-positive people irrespective of their CD4 count by September. An extra R1-billion was allocated to the health budget to make this programme possible.

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