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[YAOUNDE] A research centre that opened in Cameroon last week (23 February) will, among other activities, help develop a vaccine to protect babies from getting HIV from their mothers while breastfeeding.

The centre in Yaoundé will run clinical trials of the vaccine being developed by Families First Africa, an international partnership led by UNESCO.

Newborns will be given the vaccine to protect them from being infected while breastfeeding, says Vittorio Colizzi of the Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy. The university is one of the new centre's partners.

Colizzi says the vaccine will soon be ready for initial safety tests.

According to the World Health Organization, breastfeeding could account for up to half of HIV infections in infants and young children in areas where the practice is common and prolonged.

Colizzi says the centre's other aims include improving HIV/AIDS diagnosis in children, and researching HIV's ability to resist drugs used in Cameroon. It will also provide training for researchers from the region.

The centre's other research partners are the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and Italy's Higher Health Institute.

The Italian health ministry, the European Union, UNESCO, and the government of Cameroon are funding the centre.