May 17, 2021

HVAD voices: The need for an HIV vaccine cannot be overstated

Scientists and community liaisons highlight the importance of collaboration in achieving an affordable, globally accessible HIV vaccine.

HVAD 2021 article

On HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD) 2021, scientists and community liaisons highlight the importance of collaboration in achieving an affordable, globally accessible HIV vaccine. Check out our #HVAD2021 Campaign Toolkit and follow the #EyesOnTheTarget conversation on IAVI social media channels.


The need for an HIV vaccine cannot be overemphasized

Just like COVID-19, the burden of HIV/AIDS has been devastating to humanity — however, for longer. While we have made great strides towards current HIV prevention and treatment tools, this hasn’t been a definitive solution. A vaccine to prevent HIV will contribute the most in reducing HIV infections, which have been with us for over 40 years now.

Countries overburdened and afflicted by the HIV epidemic, especially low- and middle-income countries, still heavily rely on western financing to fight the epidemic. Notwithstanding, the burden of other existing health challenges remains. However, should we find an efficacious HIV vaccine, we’ll begin closing the tap of new infections with the aim of focusing on treating those already infected. Ultimately, this reduces the financial burden of lifelong HIV treatment and allows resources to be channeled towards strengthening other components of our health systems.

We can never predict what pandemics lurk in in the future. Instead, we have an opportunity to deal with existing epidemics, and therefore improve our ability to respond to future crises. Besides helping prevent some of the problems we’re currently facing with the COVID-19 pandemic, an HIV vaccine will empower people disproportionately affected by HIV, like adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa, to protect themselves. No doubt, this will greatly reduce the number of infections over the next 10 years, and ultimately help end HIV.

– William Kilembe, M.D., MSc, director, Center for Family Health Research Group, Lusaka


To realize an effective HIV Vaccine, we must collaborate

The HIV pandemic has evolved rapidly over the last 40 years. While HIV began as a little understood virus with no known means of controlling it, years of extensive research has greatly contributed to its current treatment and prevention toolbox that includes antiretroviral therapy and pre-exposure prophylaxis, among others. While this has reignited hope for people living with HIV, the African continent continues to disproportionately carry the HIV burden. Undoubtedly, the most significant solution in sight to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be an effective HIV vaccine, which African scientists must work together towards its realization.

As a young researcher, I am fortunate to have been mentored by exceptional scientists in the field of HIV vaccine research and development. This includes Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman for my Ph.D., and Prof. Lynn Morris and Prof. Penny Moore for my postdoctoral research. By working with these phenomenal scientists, I have grown optimistic of a future where an effective HIV vaccine is readily available, accessible, and affordable to all who need it. A key lesson I have learnt from my mentors is the infinite value of collaboration. Indeed, if we are to realize an effective HIV vaccine, it will not be through the isolated work of one research team. Instead, it will be as a result of the 40 years of hard work of numerous laboratories working across the world, collaboratively. With novel vaccine platforms showing efficacy for preventing other viruses and researchers discovering more and more vulnerabilities in HIV, the future of a world with an HIV vaccine may be closer than we think.

– Thandeka Moyo-Gwete, Ph.D., medical scientist, The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), South Africa


For an HIV vaccine, we do not have to restart the journey

Today, we can see that the efforts of hundreds of scientists towards HIV vaccine research and development in the last 30 years are bearing fruit. To achieve the dream of an HIV vaccine, it is essential that the next generation of scientists are able to learn from the scientists who have come before us. Indeed, we do not have to restart the journey when we can be mentored by those already on the path.

The value of mentorship in HIV vaccine research is immense. It helps scientists and researchers build better thought processes, generate a seamless flow of ideas, and quickly structure their efforts so as not to repeat past mistakes. Ultimately, mentorship provides an opportunity for one to share their own career path, or life in general, with another person, as they provide guidance and motivation.

Having worked in a large research institution, I have benefited from being mentored directly and indirectly by peers and seniors alike. Likewise, I am inclined to reciprocate this to my peers, and to be a good influence and motivator to others.

Scientific mentorship enables collaboration among scientists at diverse stages of their careers and enriches the pursuit of cutting-edge HIV vaccine R&D. This is a sure and faster route towards realizing an effective HIV vaccine within our time.

– Eunice Nduati, Ph.D., co-director, laboratory scientist, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, Kenya


Community engagement in HIV research: It’s a two-way street

As we search for an effective HIV vaccine, we must keep community engagement at the center of our work. The conversation around community engagement in biomedical research needs to be one that both demystifies science and encourages scientists and communities to communicate with each other.

The gap between science and community engagement will only remain if these groups do not build trust and empathy and understand each other’s perspectives. Effective collaboration between communities and researchers ensures that research is in line with the needs, priorities, and expectations of the community.

Community participation also helps researchers to better shape scientific messages to be culturally relevant and acceptable. This helps to ensure that affected communities are supportive of the research at hand, thus leading to community ownership of research and increasing the likelihood that communities will uptake research results. At the same time, there should be an infrastructure for community members to voice concerns and priorities that otherwise might not be included during the search for an HIV vaccine, and to advise about suitable processes that are respectful of, and acceptable to, the community.

– Gertrude Nanyonjo, social science and community engagement coordinator, Uganda Virus Research Institute-IAVI