Every year on May 18, the world comes together to commemorate HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD). On this day, we recognize the enormous contributions of vaccine trial participants and researchers in the search of an effective, available and accessible HIV vaccine.
The search for a much-needed HIV vaccine is taking a long time. There is however a lot to be hopeful for as HIV vaccine research is gaining momentum with a lot more communities taking part to help in the search.
Amid the COVID crisis, HIV vaccine research must be safeguarded and we must also not lose sight of the important contributions of HIV R&D to the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Techniques and platforms developed through HIV vaccine research on virus structure and immune responses have greatly helped in advancing understanding of COVID-19.
In the same way, HIV research has created a foundation for ethical considerations in research, which COVID-19 vaccine development should learn from. HIV research has shown that greater success is achieved when strong community participation is in place. It is a basis to build acceptance, mutual support and trust for ethically rigours research process and respect for humanity.
In all of this, there still is an urgent need to find a vaccine against HIV given the rates if new infections that are experienced in Africa. Adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are as high as 4 percent per year. We acknowledge progress, which has led to highly effective treatment, and proven prevention methods such as Pre Exposure Prophylaxis. Even with that, most recent data show an estimated 1.7 million people around the world still became newly infected with HIV in 2018. A vaccine is needed for a durable and sustainable end of the HIV epidemic.
On this World HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, African HIV prevention advocates, call on governments and funding bodies to accelerate investment in ethical Research. Preparation for success by ensuring health systems are strengthened so that when a vaccine is found there is fair distribution. In this regard, African governments should increase domestic budgetary allocations in strengthening Africa’s health systems, research capacity and infrastructure in support of African scientists who are dedicated to finding an HIV vaccine.
The question of equity in access when a safe and effective vaccine is developed must be addressed early in the research process. Whether for HIV, COVID-19 or any other vaccine, the world will only truly benefit from such science if critical supplies are fairly distributed to also reach people in low resource settings.
About Africa free of New HIV Infections (AfNHi)