Zim set to embark on HIV vaccine research

HARARE - Zimbabwe will embark on HIV vaccine research in a bid to up its contribution towards curbing the virus which claims thousands of lives every year.

The HIV vaccine research programme broadly looks at HIV prevention but is complex and requires massive infrastructure for storage of the vaccine.

Executive director of the University of  Zimbabwe; University of California, San Francisco Collaborative Research Programme, Mike Chirenje said awareness programmes and construction workshops will commence next year.

“We have not been conducting HIV vaccine research in Zimbabwe and we are expecting that next year we are going into the community to sensitise the public and to build infrastructure for that,” said Chirenje.

Currently, an estimated 1,2 million people are HIV positive in Zimbabwe and the country is losing millions in HIV care while at least 60 000 people succumbed to HIV related illnesses last year.

“Right now we are in a preparatory stage, which probably will see us some time next year conduct the first HIV vaccine research in Zimbabwe,” Chirenje said.

With the rate of new HIV infections standing at 1,05 percent in 2013, Chirenje believes a vaccine will help in killing new infections in a country where existing mitigation measures such as condoms and male circumcision have their limitations.

“We know that using condoms correctly and consistently prevents HIV but particularly for women it is difficult to negotiate the use of a condom, so is MC (male circumcision), it has its challenges. The majority of infectious diseases have been controlled or eradicated through a vaccine, so ultimately a vaccine will provide us with a bullet to eradicate HIV infections,” he said.

Researchers are building up on the recent first HIV vaccine study in Thailand where a 31 percent HIV protective vaccine was produced.

Questioned on when the first effective vaccine may be available on the market, Chirenje said: “The speculation is it will probably take quite some years, if not a decade since we are in the infancy of HIV vaccine research”.

The research will be a multi-centre study with local researchers joining a huge network of HIV vaccine researchers sponsored by the National District of Health in the United States.

Other centres already exist in Uganda, Malawi and several other places in Africa.


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