By Max Patrick Ocaido
PARLIEMENT. There is a glimpse of hope as experts reveal that they are in the advanced stages of finding a vaccine that cures Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
According to experts from Vaccine Interest Group (VIG) in Uganda, there is hope that by 2020, HIV vaccine would have been found following ongoing clinical trials in which Ugandan experts are participants in South Africa.
This was revealed on Tuesday during the HIV Awareness Day organized by VIG in partnership with the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Quality Health Service Delivery and Makerere University Water Reed Project (MUWRP).
During the meeting that was officially launched by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga at Parliament, Dr Francis Kiweewa, head of research at MUWRP said that the significant HIV prevalence rate has pushed VIG to continue to look for a vaccine.
“Since 1998, we have had only 5 vaccine candidates reaching phrase 3 which leads to licensing. As we talk now we have 4 clinical trials in phrase 3; meaning that the candidates are beginning to show progress.
We have the clinical trial in South Africa which is testing 5,000 individuals and following them to ascertain if these candidates will not get HIV. We are following them up to 2020 and we are optimistic that these trials will lead (us to an) HIV vaccine,” Kiweewa said.
He added that even if by 2020, there is no vaccine yet, the findings will help them to more knowledge on how to improve in the next clinical trials.
“We believe that the vaccine is now not far from us. Once we get the vaccine, we shall start by testing the vaccine on animals, study its side effects before it’s tested on humans, dosing and side effects. We are very optimistic that sooner than later we are about to find an HIV vaccine,” Kiweewa added.
However, Kiweewa said that one of the reasons it has taken long to find an HIV vaccine is because the virus keeps mutating, making it difficult to find a global solution to it.
MUWRP's Executive Director, Dr Hannah Kibuuka said that whereas the HIV prevalence rate and new infections in Uganda have declined over time, the pace may not meet the 2020 target as the virus remains the leading cause of death.
“We have had HIV for decades and still grapple with it. Globally, 36.7m people are living with HIV and we have 1.8m new infections in 2016 which means 5,000 new infections every year to which 64% are from sub-Saharan Africa.
In Uganda, HIV prevalence has declined to 6.5%, but this is still significant because by 2016, only 67% of adults on ARTs (antiretroviral therapy), had access to treatment,” Dr. Kibuuka said.
She called for need to support the HIV research through advocacy and adequate funding to help end the epidemic.
Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) called for adequate availability of ARVs to ensure regular dosage saying that 50% of the affected persons have Recombinant viruses which could be resistant to drugs.
“This is a chronic disease and those on treatment need to take it every day which is a big challenge. If there is no drug accessibility and you're not taking them every day then there will be drug resistance.
Therefore, in order to eliminate the virus then the vaccine is paramount because we are already doing well in combination treatment, circumcision, abstinence and condom use,” Prof. Kaleebu said.
In her speech, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga commended VIG in their relentless search for the HIV vaccine saying the need for the vaccine is real and it would help stabilize peoples’ lives.
“We have been committed on advocacy on issues around HIV so we will be happy to walk with you all the way to ensure this service comes to the people because I know we are moving closer to the realization of this vaccine. I’m delighted that you people are in Masaka and I am praying that you people also go to HIV-most hit areas especially in fishing areas,” Kadaga said.