By Patrick Aigbokhan
The New HIV Vaccine And Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) has called for the collaborative efforts of all stakeholder across the glob for the development of HIV vaccines to control the dreaded disease in the society.
The group made the call recently at a Media Roundtable held in commemoration of the HIV Awareness Day, noting that the vaccine research is always a long-term endeavour, just as many vaccines available today for other diseases took decades to develop, such as discovery of the polio vaccine, which took 47 years .
The group said in a statement that it acknowledges the dramatic success in increasing coverage of HIV treatment, care and existing prevention options at this point in history.
“If coverage of prevention and treatment expands, new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS will continue to decrease. Available prevention options include the male and female condoms, prompt detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, male medical circumcisions, post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV treatment with antiretroviral drugs.
“Many of today’s HIV biomedical prevention method require daily use or adherence to medications. Sustaining progress in bending the curve of the epidemic downward will most likely depend on finding new tools that can provide long-lasting protection, and can be used in combination with available options. An HIV vaccine would be an important part of such comprehensive, integrated and sustained HIV prevention strategy,” NHVMAS said.
Reports have shown that HIV vaccine researchers are building on lessons from decades of vaccine research, as well as the large body of research that led to the discovery of the HIV treatments in use today. They are also said to be learning from studies with broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs), molecules that can neutralize many strains of the virus.
According to NHVMAS, one large trial that is currently underway is testing if giving direct bNAb infusions of bNAbs into the blood streams (a drip) can prevent HIV.
“All these trials are drawing us ever closer to a licensable vaccines. They are also providing insights for the HIV cure research field,” the group added.
While acknowledging that developing an HIV vaccine is not so easy or cheap, but promises huge dividends to individuals, communities, nations and the world, NHVMAS pointed that success depends on keeping up the momentum, working together, and sustaining financial support, saying, “ we can’t afford to slow down promising and urgently needed research.”
The group said, “For Nigeria, the engagement of the government is crucial and critical. While global efforts at developing an HIV vaccine are focused on ensuring that any vaccine developed can be used universally, we are aware that the HIV vaccine candidate products currently being tested do not address the circulating HIV strain in Nigeria. The National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA)is aware of this.”
The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research is said to be planning to take proactive action in this respect and seeking international collaborative efforts to address this prospective challenge.
Also, NACA is said to have developed a national road map for HIV vaccine development in Nigeria.
Scientists in Nigeria are also said to have been dedicated to research for HIV vaccine that addresses the needs of Nigerians. They include Dr. Alash’le Abimiku of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV), Nigeria and Dr. Simon Agwale of Innovative Biotechnology Nigeria and the USA.
Building of regulatory capacities is said to be underway to address HIV vaccine development and licensure in Nigeria.
“We need to start implementing the developed road map. We need to conduct operational and implementation research that would address the potential barriers to HIV vaccine access in Nigeria. The HIV vaccine demonstration project conducted by the IHV was a process towards achieving this.
“As a country, we need to translate the lessons learnt. We need to promote community education as awareness about ongoing efforts in the field, and start to promote community support for an HIV vaccine to be developed and, or tested in Nigeria in the future.
“We cannot afford delays. Over three million people in Nigeria are living with HIV, and every new effective has social and economic consequences for the country. An HIV vaccine would reduce the number of new infections drastically. This is why support for HIV vaccine development is critical for our country.”, NHVMAS said.
While also noting that enabling every single Nigerian to have access to current HIV prevention tools is important, the group noted that in working towards an AIDS free generation 2030, NHVMAS is making collaborative efforts with other groups to actualize this set goal.
It said, “NHVMAS and its allies and partners in Nigeria –Civil Society on HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (CISHAN), Treatment Advocacy Movement (TAM) and Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (NEPWHAN) are pushing for a generation in Nigeria that is free from new HIV infections.
“Jointly, We support national and global efforts to ensure the smooth development, testing and eventual roll out of a safe, effective, licensed and widely accessible HIV vaccine.”