World’s biggest vaccine trial to begin in South Africa

Amin George Forji

The government of South Africa on Thursday Feb. 8th announced that it has approved plans for the first ever world large scale HIV vaccine trial to be conducted in the country. According to the press release from the Ministry of Health, the said study vaccine known as the MRKAd5 HIV-1 trivalent vaccine, created by the drug company Merck & Co. Inc, would for a start be tested on 3,000 HIV-negative men and women, aged between 18 and 35 years. Pregnant women are excluded from the said South African launch dubed Phambili, meanng “moving forward”. An international team to be led by Glenda Gray, MBBCH, FCPaeds, of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand would monitor the entire trial process.

The MRKAd5 HIV-1 trivalent vaccine is said to have already shown promise in former trials studies that were conducted in the smaller communities in the US, Australia, the Carribeans and Africa during the early stages of it’s manufacture. To date, up to 1800 people are said to have received the vaccince 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 initiative of the drug.

The present vaccine is said to be free from any infection because it doesnot contain the live HIV, but rather strains of the three HIV genes. The signiicance of the strains is to enable the body develop an immune response to subsequent cells containing the HIV virus, that would then be dstryoed 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 internatonal collaboraton 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,” he said.

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D, the NIH Director was also very 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.” Zerhouni said according to Science Daily.


There will also be acess to circumcision for the male participants, during the Phambili.

Up to 1,300,000 AIDS orphans are estimated to be living in South Africa alone and the infection rate presently stands at one out of every nine persons, making it one of the world’s most infected countries. South Africa has a population of 47, million people.

[Edited by Simon – Format] 

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