Progress in the Fight Against AIDS and HIV
Thirty years after the first report of AIDS, there's plenty of news about efforts to create vaccines that protect against HIV infection and boost the immune systems of people already infected.
(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
Clinical trials for a vaccine candidate called TAT were announced at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. Participants continue to take their antiretroviral medications, ARVs, as researchers investigate "what health-restorative qualities the candidate vaccine has that ARVs do not possess," reports the Sowetan.
This approach appears particularly promising for African and Caribbean nations, where many patients do not have easy access to lifesaving ARVs. An estimated 5.7 million HIV-positive people live in South Africa alone, more than in any other nation.
But within the U.S., the HIV/AIDS-treatment-and-research community is divided on the benefits of funding therapeutic strategies because many people are already on ARV therapy, which is largely effective. Stephen Bailous, vice president of community affairs at the National Association of People With AIDS, defends the approach. " 'We need to have hopes, and some of the therapeutic vaccines look really promising,' " Bailous is quoted by Scientific American.
Recruiting Blacks for Vaccine Trials
"In the long term, the preventive vaccine is the goal standard," says Ben Perkins, associate director of community education at the Boston-based Fenway Institute. "It's great that the PrEP study has shown that uninfected men who have sex with men can take medication and decrease their likelihood of HIV acquisition," he says. "But that is medication you have to take on a daily basis under medical supervision. A vaccine is just a couple of shots; maybe later you get a booster. That's it."
In addition to doing community outreach and working with AIDS-service organizations around the country, "my job is also to talk about HIV-vaccine research and try to get people of color involved in trials," Perkins says. A participant in the STEP-study (pdf) phase 2 clinical vaccine trials, Perkins recently uploaded a video to YouTube discussing the importance of black involvement.
"My childhood best friend died from AIDS-related complications in 1991 at 27 years old," Perkins says. "In addition, once I later came out as a gay man, my first partner had an AIDS diagnosis. It's impacted me personally, and it's important to do my part to help find a vaccine ... We were able to eradicate smallpox through vaccine several generations ago. I'd like to see the same thing happen with HIV."
Blacks and Latinos are generally underrepresented in clinical research. There has been a nationwide, sustained effort by the NIH-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network's Legacy Project to recruit more black and Latino participants. "In the United States, African Americans are at greatest risk for HIV. Not to acknowledge that, or not to design our research around that, means we are reinforcing the very obstacles that the virus preys upon," AVAC's Warren reminds us. "Whether it be for a vaccine, for a therapy, microbicide or PrEP, we need to make sure that diverse populations are enrolling in the clinical trials.
"But we will find a vaccine," Warren adds. "There is no doubt, given all the recent advances."
Rod McCullom, a writer and television news producer, blogs on black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news and pop culture at rod20.com. This article was originally published by the Black AIDS Weekly, a publication of the Black AIDS Institute think tank.