ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PANA) – A two-day AIDS experts meeting opened Oct. 25 with an African Union (AU) official stressing that Africa, more than any other continent, was in urgent need of an HIV vaccine to protect populations and attain its development goals.
AU Commissioner for Social Affairs Bience Gawanas told the scientists and experts involved in the search for an HIV vaccine in Africa, that a strong commitment was required to translate the political will at various levels into action.
The regional consultation, organized by the AU in collaboration with the Africa AIDS Vaccine Program (AAVP), seeks to raise awareness on HIV vaccine research and development efforts in Africa.
AAVP was set up in September 2000 after a group of African scientists met in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss strategies to accelerate the development of HIV vaccines in the continent. The program has since evolved into a network of African scientists, institutions and communities working to promote research for HIV vaccine through capacity building and international cooperation.
With Sub-Saharan Africa as the global epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, African leaders have repeatedly underlined their support to the development of an effective, affordable and accessible HIV vaccine relevant to the continent. At a special summit on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria held May 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria, they reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion of research and partnership in combating these diseases.
Noting that scientists were vital research agents, Ms. Gawanas encouraged them to be patient and ethical, to share results and be open to critical views. “Research, particularly in this case, means a scientific search for a completely new product and entails a process of trial and error,” she explained.
The commissioner also urged respect for the rights of individuals who agree to take part in clinical trials for an HIV vaccine. “Informed consent in these trials should be a prerequisite. Our scientists bear the responsibility of being guardians of ethical research in Africa,” she added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Ethiopia, Vincent Agu Uchena, told the meeting that a preventive HIV/AIDS vaccine remained a long-term hope for a decisive victory over the pandemic. In spite of all prevention efforts being made in Africa, he said the HIV/AIDS pandemic constituted a health emergency of unprecedented proportions.
“Although life can be extended and suffering relieved by anti-retroviral therapy, the spread of the epidemic can only be halted and reversed by effective prevention,” the WHO official stressed.