HIV vaccine trial to start in Zimbabwe

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  • About 1.4 million people are living with HIV in Zimbabwe, says UNAIDS
  • Zimbabwe is one of three countries set to trial a new HIV vaccine in humans
  • An expert calls for a need to build capacity of researchers undertaking such trials

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[MUTARE, ZIMBABWE] An HIV vaccine trial in humans is set to begin in Zimbabwe next month, according to researchers.  

The United Nations AIDS Programme estimates that about 1.4 million people living in Zimbabwe have HIV, making the country one of the hardest hit by the disease in the world.
The early phase clinical trial to be conducted by the University of Zimbabwe in partnership with the US-based University of San Francisco, California, has vaccines similar to the RV144, commonly known as the Thai Trial, which cut the risk of HIV infection by about 31 per cent.

“The general problem and failure of most clinical studies in Africa is that they are being carried out by scientists with little capacity.”

Nomathemba Ndiweni, Zimbabwe National University of Science and Technology

The trial to be known as HVTN 107 will also be done in South Africa and Mozambique, says Lynda Stranix-Chibanda, a clinical researcher in Zimbabwe directing the trial for the University of Zimbabwe-University of San Francisco Collaborative Research Programme.
The HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), an international group of scientists, educators and community members searching for an effective and safe HIV vaccine developed the study, while Sanofi Pasteur and Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics developed the vaccines.
According to the University of Zimbabwe statement providing an update on the trial released on 30 June, the study will evaluate whether the vaccines are safer in humans and test if people’s immune systems respond after vaccination. 
The HVTN 107 team will enrol 26 Zimbabwean women to participate in the study, says Stranix-Chibanda.
Regionally, HVTN 107 will enrol a total of 135 women at six clinical sites in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to the US National Institutes of Health-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is also involved in the study.
Stranix-Chibanda says the trial will recruit volunteers for six months and follow each one closely for 18 months.  “We aim to start in September and [we] should be able to gather enough data in late 2017. It will take another year or so to analyse the results,” she adds.

Nomathemba Ndiweni, a public health researcher with Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology, says that while it is plausible to receive funding to carry out such trials in Africa, scientists carrying such studies must have deep knowledge and be skilled in HIV/AIDS.
“The general problem and failure of most clinical studies in Africa is that they are being carried out by scientists with little capacity in terms of knowledge and experience in the research fields,” Ndiweni adds, noting that researchers hardly involve World Health Organisation experts in such studies.