Imagine a world without HIV. That is only possible if an effective HIV vaccine is developed that will prevent people who receive the vaccine from getting the HIV virus.
Jamaica has begun the journey towards preventing HIV infections. The Ministry of Health is currently conducting HIV vaccine trials in Jamaica. The trials are being administered by the Epidemiology Research and Training Unit at the Slipe Pen Road Clinic in Kingston. Chief of Epidemiology and Aids at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Figueroa, heads the unit.
"Jamaica is part of the HIV vaccine trials network (HVTN), which is the largest clinical trials programme devoted to the development and testing of preventative HIV vaccines worldwide," Dr. Figueroa stated.
The network has HIV vaccine trials units in 27 sites worldwide, including the Caribbean.
"It is important for Jamaica to participate in HIV vaccine research because in developing a HIV
preventative vaccine, it is critical to test on different populations, in different parts of the world. This will enable us to know whether the HIV vaccine being developed is also effective among Jamaicans and other Caribbean people," Dr. Figueroa explained.
incidents of misconduct
He acknowledges that incidents of misconduct in clinical research have resulted in a great deal of scepticism about clinical trials. However, he said those unfortunate incidents have caused systems to be put in place to protect people who participate in research. He explained that persons who participate in the HIV vaccine trials are told about the purpose of the research, what their rights are and any risks that might result from their participation.
"Once participants fully understand all study procedures and are willing to participate, they are asked to sign a document called an informed consent form," Dr. Figueroa said. "In addition, there are several groups established to ensure that participants' rights and welfare are protected. These groups are not connected to the research and they monitor and review whether research studies are relevant, safe and ethical. The groups are active before, during and after the research," he continued.
Dr. Figueroa stressed that participants will not contract HIV from the vaccine. "No whole, live, weakened, or killed HIV is used in making the vaccine, so it is impossible for participants to become infected from being given the vaccine." According to Dr. Figueroa, advances in technology allow HIV vaccines, which do not contain the HIV virus, to be developed synthetically.
All volunteers entering the HIV Vaccine Trials are HIV-negative. "In order to test whether an HIV vaccine will prevent infection, the participant must be HIV-negative when they start the trial and they will not be required to be exposed to the HIV in order to test if the vaccine works," Dr. Figueroa pointed out.
He said HIV trials volunteers are encouraged to practise safe sex and other responsible behaviour, which would reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV.
"We try to prevent participants in the trials from becoming infected with HIV through their own behaviour. To try and achieve that, the researchers offer education, condoms and risk reduction counselling in order to assist volunteers to reduce their risk for HIV," he continued.
There have been great successes in HIV treatments in recent years. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) have succeeded in transforming HIV from a death sentence into a chronic, but stable condition. Most HIV patients taking the latest combination treatments survive for at least 10 years after being diagnosed.
However, ARVs do not cure HIV. A safe, affordable HIV vaccine that will prevent HIV infections is the best hope for controlling the AIDS epidemic.
A vaccine will not only prevent new infections from occurring, but vaccines can also be developed which may delay the progression of the HIV virus to AIDS.
HIV trial volunteers are playing a vital role towards the realisation of the dream of a world free of HIV/AIDS.
Approximately 12 volunteers have already received HIV vaccines as part of the trials being conducted in Jamaica. The Gleaner has, for the past three weeks, carried excerpts from the diary of one of the volunteers, Oniel, a 32-year-old self-employed father of two children. He has shared why he became a volunteer, what it was like when he received his first HIV vaccine, and how people react when he tells them that he is part of the vaccine trials. The series will continue next week with the experience of another volunteer.
To find out more about the HIV Vaccine Trials visit the Epidemiology Research and Training Unit (ERTU) 55 Slipe Pen Road, Kingston 5, Jamaica or call 922-4873/922-4461. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Would you participate in the HIV Vaccine Trials? What do you think about the trials? If you would like to share your views and have them published, please contact Andrea Downer at the Gleaner at the above email.
A clinical trial is a research study conducted in humans. It is used to determine whether new drugs or treatments are both safe and effective. In an HIV vaccine trial, an experimental vaccine is given to people who are followed over a period of time to see how their bodies respond.
Researchers look at how people who receive the experimental vaccine compare with other people who receive an inactive substance called a placebo. HIV experimental vaccines go through many years of testing in the laboratory and in animals before they are approved by the Drug Regulatory Authorities for testing in people.