HIV vaccine is near, researchers tell Kadaga

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga at the launch of the dialogue with HIV researchers at Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTO BY SARAH ACHEN KIBISI

Fear of the dreaded HIV will soon be a thing of the past as the vaccine that will eliminate HIV/Aids from Ugandan is about to be found.

At a dialogue launched by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga at Parliament on Tuesday, June 5, Dr Francis Kiwewa a researcher at Makerere University Walter Reed project –MUWRP, revealed that the high HIV prevalence in the country is what has encouraged the Vaccine Interest (VIG) group to intensify their effort in search for the vaccine.

“Every day, we get 140-220 new infections and this is the reason the VIG is working tirelessly to continue looking for the vaccine and today we are hopeful that the vaccine may not be far from us. We have 4 clinical trials in phase 3, this implies the candidates are already demonstrating progress,” Kiwewa said.

Adding that the clinical trial in South Africa is testing 5,000 individuals and also monitoring them to establish if they will get HIV. Hopefully by 2020 the trial could take us to a vaccine.

He revealed that if by any chance the vaccine is not got by the same year, they will use the lessons learnt to improve in other trials. “We know that the vaccine is almost here. Upon getting it, we will test it on animals; study its side effects before it’s tested on humans, we will also look at dosing and side effects.

Nevertheless, the researcher added that one of the challenges the scientists have met leading to delay in finding the vaccine is because the virus keeps mutating itself and hiding. “You find that once it has disappeared, we have to start from scratch which is costly and this is a problem globally,” Dr Kiweewa said.

MUWRP’s Executive Director, Dr Hannah Kibuuka, also a researcher, highlighted that much as the HIV prevalence has reduced, the goal to achieve the 2020 target may never be attained since the virus is still the leading cause of death.

“HIV has been with us for long and yet we are still struggling with it. Worldwide, 36.7 million people are living with HIV and we had 1.8 million new infections in 2016 which means 5,000 new infections every year to which 64% are from sub-Saharan Africa alone is worrying. In Uganda, the prevalence has reduced to 6.5% yet it’s still a problem, in 2016, only 67% of adults were on antiretroviral therapy, were in position to get treatment,” Dr Kibuuka said.
She advised the MPs to use their networks to support HIV research and solicit for funding if virus is to be completely eradicated.

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.

“HIV is a chronic disease and the people on treatment are supposed to take it on a daily basis which is not something easy.

So when we get a stock out of ARVs, it means the person is not taking them every day, like or not, he or she will have drug resistance. This is the reason why we need a vaccine since we have already registered progress in other strategies such as male circumcision, abstinence and condom use among others,” Prof Kaleebu asserted.

Speaker Rebecca Kadage commended VIG in their persistent pursuit for the HIV vaccine saying the need for the vaccine is real and it would help stabilize peoples’ lives.

“We have been dedicated on support on issues around HIV so we are grateful with be able to walk with you all the way to make sure the services reaches our people because I know that we are about to find the vaccine. Since you are in Masaka, I also hope you will reach the areas which are most affected by the disease like the fishing community,” she said.



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