Today, on World AIDS Vaccine Day, we are reminded that AIDS continues to devastate the lives of millions of people across the globe, orphaning children, ravaging communities and disrupting economies. The effort to end the AIDS pandemic requires truly global commitment, and we must continuously rededicate ourselves to this task.

Decades of dedication from researchers, funders, advocates and volunteers have culminated in a recent flurry of exciting discoveries and encouraging data. However, deciphering these promising clues to develop a safe and effective AIDS vaccine will require a sharp focus and the ability to quickly devise approaches that incorporate the most up-to-date information.

Achieving the vision of a world without AIDS requires energy, persistence and innovative ideas from champions both new and old, as well as the continued courage and commitment of volunteers participating in HIV vaccine studies.

Vaccines have the power to save and improve lives. Immunisation campaigns are protecting millions from measles, pneumonia and cancer-causing viruses, and the polio vaccine has taken a disease that has plagued the world for centuries to the brink of eradication. Simply put, vaccines work.

New modelling data released today by IAVI and their partners at the Futures Institute illustrates what an effective AIDS vaccine could mean for low- and middle-income countries. The results are striking: in a scenario where existing HIV prevention programmes are continued at their current scale, and an AIDS vaccine that is only 50 per cent efficacious is introduced in 2020, 5.2 million new infections in low- and middle-income countries would be averted over the first decade.

What’s more, the model also shows that a vaccine would substantially drive down new infections even if existing prevention and treatment programs reach targets recently set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) before a vaccine is introduced. The combination of scaled-up prevention programming and that same 50 per cent efficacious vaccine could prevent nearly 20 million infections by 2030, with each averted infection representing one more person who will not need to enrol in lifelong antiretroviral treatment to stave off AIDS-related illness or death.

While the inherent uncertainties associated with research and development make it difficult to ascertain precisely when a future preventive AIDS vaccine will be available, IAVI’s projections characterise the tremendous impact a vaccine working in combination with other HIV prevention measures can have in low- and middle-income countries.

To end the AIDS pandemic, we must maximise the potential of the existing prevention toolbox while simultaneously striving to accelerate the development and delivery of an HIV vaccine and other new prevention tools desperately needed by so many at risk of infection, including women, children, other vulnerable populations, and those who are not aware they are at risk. Unfortunately, early data from the HIV Vaccines and Microbicides Resource Tracking Working Group shows that a downturn in HIV vaccine funding that began in 2008 continued through 2011. Achieving common goal of a safe and effective HIV vaccine necessitates reversing this trend. 

 

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