The HIV vaccine awareness day is marked on May 18 every year. Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu is the Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. UVRI works closely with parties like Makerere Walter Reed, JCRC and Medical Research Council. In an interview with Richard Wetaya, he lays out a case for observing the day, the progress they have so far made and why it is crucial to have an HIV Vaccine awareness day.
Q.In your assessment, how is Uganda performing in keeping with the UNAIDS’ declaration on ending AIDS by 2030?
Uganda is doing well in some areas. There was this target of 90% of people knowing their status, of those who know their status, 90% be on treatment and of those on treatment, at least 90% have suppressive viral load by 2020.
We are reaching about the first 90 and the second 90, but on the third 90, we need to do more, so that the people who are on treatment have suppressed viral load. But also, in the first and second 90s, all efforts are being made to reach the remaining percentages, so that all people are tested and they know their status.
An HIV vaccine is yet to be developed, yet the pandemic is still a big challenge. Why should more funds be allocated to the development of a vaccine, when there are already proven HIV prevention strategies like condoms, medical male circumcision, PrEP, and treatment as prevention?
Despite all the preventive measures, you mentioned, HIV still persists. The advantage of an effective vaccine is that if you give one or two shots, it is the end. Adherence to drugs or accessibility of condoms would not matter if you had a vaccine.
It will be difficult to dispense with HIV if you rely on the aforementioned approaches. It is vaccines that have been enablers of the eradication of diseases, such as smallpox, Polio and other viral epidemics.
To that end, therefore, vaccines are important. Treatment has not always been easy for viruses. They are very difficult to treat and, in my estimation, if we are to completely eliminate HIV, we shall need a very efficacious or effective vaccine, which is affordable and widely accessible. More funds are needed because there is no cure yet, for HIV. The drugs we have can prolong somebody’s life and help them remain symptom-free. However, they do not get cured of the disease.