November 26, 2002
NEW YORK, 26 November 2002--In advance of World AIDS Day, 1 December, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization have released the 2002 statistics on the global epidemic: By the end of this year, 5 million men, women and children worldwide will have become infected with HIV, bringing to 42 million the total people living with the virus. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 3.5 million will be infected in 2002.
In response, Seth Berkley, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), issued this statement:
"The latest HIV/AIDS epidemic update from the United Nations and World Health Organization is, once again, a stinging indictment of the world's sluggish response in the face of unprecedented human suffering and economic devastation.
"We must commit far greater resources to create new technologies that can decisively end our era's Great Plague. Exciting ideas are emerging from laboratories for new treatment and prevention methods, including the ultimate in protection from the virus, a preventive vaccine. But moving these early concepts forward to success will require much more funding and effort than we have expended so far.
"As the US and other wealthy nations focus on fighting terrorism, we must not concede defeat to the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of all recorded time. If it has ever been in doubt, it is clear now: HIV/AIDS will not simply go away. The worst is far from over, even in sub-Saharan African countries where infection rates have reached levels previously thought impossible.
"The world continues to be unconscionably slow in deploying the tools that are at our disposal today, and have been for years, to promote behaviors that interrupt the virus's transmission and extend the lives of those who become infected. We cannot waste any more time in expanding access to proven prevention and treatment interventions.
"Victory over HIV/AIDS is fully within our reach, but only if we choose to engage the epidemic as the present danger it is. The top priority for our leaders across the industrialized and developing worlds must be to assure that next year's numbers go down, not up."
Update on progress toward discovering an AIDS vaccine
Results of the world’s first human trial to determine the efficacy of an investigational vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS are expected early next year. The vaccine candidate, called AIDSVAX and developed by California biotechnology firm VaxGen Inc., is intended to protect people uninfected with HIV from becoming infected. Whether AIDSVAX in fact does this is the subject of the 5000-volunteer, three-year trial now finishing in the US, Canada and Netherlands.
AIDSVAX is not the only preventive AIDS vaccine in development, but it is the one furthest along. AIDSVAX will be the first ever to have completed all three of the phases of human trials required to determine if a vaccine is efficacious. Other products are in earlier phases of trials, including one developed with IAVI support by the University of Oxford in the UK and the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
If AIDSVAX is found to help prevent HIV infection, “this will be a great day for the field and world,” Dr. Berkley said. “But the challenge will not be over. Particularly if AIDSVAX is only partially efficacious, continued research will be needed on additional approaches. And there is the Herculean task of guaranteeing that everyone who could benefit from any AIDS vaccine will have access to it.”
On the other hand, should AIDSVAX not prove efficacious, “it could be tempting to conclude that this means that an AIDS vaccine is not possible. In fact, experts worldwide are confident that an AIDS vaccine is possible. We simply have not tried all of the options yet--AIDSVAX is more or less a first attempt,” Dr. Berkley said.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global nonprofit organization that sponsors cross-national research partnerships to develop and test novel candidates for a vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS. IAVI also works to assure that future AIDS vaccines will be rapidly accessible to all. IAVI is a Collaborating Centre of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). IAVI’s major financial supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Rockefeller, Sloan and Starr foundations; the World Bank; BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company); and the governments of Canada, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.