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This week: Closer to a vaccine for HIV or much ado about nothing?

Text by Eve IRVINE

Latest update : 2009-10-07

Researchers in Thailand announce positive test results from a clinical trial of a HIV vaccine. HEALTH looks at whether or not it's time to celebrate.

Around since the early 80s billions of dollars have been spent on researching the HIV virus but scientists have so far failed to find a cure for it. However at the end of last September a test in Thailand was said to offer some hope that a vaccination for HIV was just that bit closer. HEALTH takes a closer look at the trial in question.


Some 16,000 Thai volunteers took part in the experiment. Half of them were given two vaccines. The first called, Alvac, is a live pox virus which has synthetic HIV genes in it and the second; Aidsvax consists of the outer coat of HIV which aims to boost the immune system. They had both been tested separately before but yielded NO positive results prompting some to question the validity of the findings.


Those who received the vaccine and were nonetheless infected suffered as strong a dose of the HIV virus as those who were on the dummy jabs. For Professer Willy Rossenbaum of the French National AIDS council this was another failing for the study.


"If a vaccine protects against the illness then it should, in those that all the same are contaminated, it should weaken the strength of the virus...That means that it would have stimulated our defense systems to make the virus less violent on us. On that criterion this trial has not shown any positive results," he notes.


Finding a cure for HIV has got scientists battling for decades is considered TOO dangerous to use the whole virus in a vaccine in order to trigger the immune system...and what's more HIV mutates incredibly fast.


A number of treatments for HIV have already been found but the problem here is access. According to figures released by the UN more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them. Despite progress in access to drugs, counseling and testing for AIDS the battle with the disease is far from over.


Dr Peter Ghys, head of the epidemiology and analysis division at UNAIDS put it simply:

“For every 2 people who get new drugs - 5 more are infected.”


Since the AIDS pandemic started in the early 80s some 25 million people have died from the virus, and 33 million people around the world today are infected.  Two thirds of those infected live in sub Saharan Africa.

Date created : 2009-10-07