Ugandan researchers join hunt for HIV vaccine

By Geoffrey Mutegeki

Added 18th May 2018 06:08 PM

A good vaccine is one way of eliminating the virus like it has been done with. The study will start in June or July.

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A good vaccine is one way of eliminating the virus like it has been done with. The study will start in June or July.

KAMPALA - A team of Ugandan researchers will lead a six-year HIV vaccine research in East Africa in an effort to find an HIV vaccine.
The hunt for an HIV vaccine has now entered its fourth decade, with no breakthrough in finding it.
For many years, a lot of research has been underway with much of it built on work that is happening in South Africa.
According to Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the study aims at conducting a trial on a vaccine that will prevent against HIV infections.
During a media breakfast for editors organised by Health Journalists Network in Uganda, together with AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) on Wednesday, Kaleebu said the study to be conducted in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa will go on for five years.
In Uganda, it will be conducted among the fishing communities in Masaka and the high risk women populations.
“This is a large study that we call the efficacy study to see if the vaccine prevents against HIV infection.
"It is a Phase II B study where we are going to test the vaccine in more than 2000 individuals,”Kalebu said.
He noted that the study is the largest vaccine study that is going to be conducted in East Africa, and the first efficacy trail outside Southern Africa and the largest funded by none US funder.
The study is funded by European Union through The European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) among HIV negative individuals.
The UVRI will coordinate all the sites which will see about 60 to 70 Ugandan researchers join their counterparts in the study countries. The study will cost up to $20million with about 15m Euros provided by EDCTP.
“If we have a good vaccine coupled with treatment, circumcision and the rest we will be on track to eliminating this virus. If we don’t have a vaccine and cure it will be very difficult to eliminate the virus,” Kaleeba said.
Diseases like small pox have been eliminated due to discovery of vaccines while measles and polio are also on the verge of being eradicate after finding vaccines against them.
A good vaccine is one way of eliminating the virus like it has been done with. The study will start in June or July.
The Ugandan researchers will also engage in another research on the use of antibodies in the prevention of infections.
“The other one we are looking at and planning is possibly using antibodies as protection and that is what we call passive immunization,” Kaleebu said.
He says there are some very good antibodies that can kill the virus “What we can broadly naturalising antibodies”
“We are in discussion with colleagues in University of Washington and Gates Foundation to conduct a study in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa using these antibodies and we hope they will prevent these infections,” Kaleebu said.
However the major peer leading the study will be in the United States.
The Head of Research and Scientific Affairs at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) Dr FrancisKiweewa called upon government to support research as way of solving Ugandan problems.
“About 99% of the research funding comes from outside of the country. But if we want to dictate which direction our medical research should go we need to see more funding from government.” Kiweewa said.
He noted that very many governments in Africa are not putting enough money in medical research yet research is very important aspect of development.
 “We are very hopeful that these trials will bring us closer to finding it. We have had so many deadlines put on for the vaccine to be found but they have come to pass because the journey to the vaccines is not straight,” Kiweewa said.
He urged various stakeholders to help push Government into committing more money to research.
Hillary Bainemigisha an editor at New Vision and member of Vaccine Advocacy Research Group (VARG) while speaking on behalf of editors asked researchers and scientists to build capacity for editors.
“You need to train the media Personalities to understand these things. HIV is an attack on all of us and it needs all of us to fight it. Media need to stop being participants but rather be advocates.
"HIV is not like any other news, which we report as observers or people on the side,” Bainemigisha said.
This year is the 21st anniversary of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD). Advocates mark progress in the search for an AIDS vaccine each year on May 18.

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