Thursday, December 1, is World AIDS Day, a fitting occasion to call attention to an HIV vaccine clinical trial that has started in South Africa. The vaccine being tested is based on one used in a Thailand trial in 2009 which had a protection rate of about 30 percent, reports the BBC. Results from the South Africa trial will be known in about four years.
The study is code-named HVTN 702. It is led by Glenda Gray, a South African university research professor and the head of the country’s Medical Research Council. The study is sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
South Africa has been the world’s ground zero for HIV/AIDS. One estimate is that by 2015 seven million South Africans were HIV positive, including approximately 19 percent of the country’s adult population. The HIV/AIDS disease burden is carried disproportionately by blacks. A 2012 study found that 15 percent of black South Africans tested HIV positive, while only .3 percent of whites tested positive.
There have, however, been successes. Under the current minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, the Zuma administration’s approach to the disease has been vigorous, with public education programs, widespread condom distribution, and male circumcision campaigns. On World AIDS Day 2014, the government broke the record for the number of people tested for HIV/AIDS. Minister Motsoaledi in 2016 said that mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS was down below 2 percent. Overall mortality rates, driven by HIV/AIDS and associated diseases such as tuberculosis, is also down. Nevertheless, other statistics from the credible South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) indicate that the fight is far from over, with a resurgence of new cases and much of the population still unaware how the disease is transmitted.