On this World AIDS Day we commemorate the lives lost to AIDS and honor all those who have worked so tirelessly over the decades to prevent the spread of HIV and help people affected by the disease. Those who have served that cause in communities and laboratories across the globe have plenty to celebrate on this World AIDS Day. Recent advances in the development of new preventive tools and strategies, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, treatment as prevention, microbicides and preventive vaccines have convinced many leading scientists and policymakers that an end to the pandemic may well be in sight.
Vaccine research, in particular, has advanced in leaps and bounds since a trial in Thailand established for the first time, three years ago, that HIV transmission can be prevented through vaccination. Researchers have now explored the underlying biology of the modest protection observed in that trial, laying the groundwork for improvements on the vaccine regimen it assessed. Indeed, two major trials currently being planned aim to do just that.
Meanwhile, vaccine designers have isolated scores of new broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV and extensively explored the mechanisms by which the most potent of them block the virus’s entry into its target cells. They have also begun to unravel how these relatively rare antibodies arise and are refined within the body. Armed with this information, researchers are now in the early stages of designing vaccine candidates and immunization strategies that might elicit just such antibodies in people. Further, major advances in the development of novel vehicles for the delivery of vaccine antigens and for stimulating immune responses to those antigens have generated considerable optimism in the field.
Indeed, leading researchers now believe that, if appropriately deployed, the combination of existing and emerging HIV prevention tools with new HIV vaccines could not only reverse the tide of the pandemic but bring it to an end. Even a partially effective vaccine could by itself have a huge impact on HIV epidemics around the world. Modeling by IAVI and the Futures Institute suggests that a preventive HIV vaccine of 70 percent efficacy that is distributed to just 40 percent of the population in low- and middle-income countries could avert almost nine million new infections—about a third—in the first decade after introduction, assuming current trends in HIV prevention coverage are maintained.
The realization of all this promise depends on sustained funding for HIV prevention research. Political will, too, must be sustained to secure the progress already made in the campaign against HIV. We must remember that any call to bring about the “end of AIDS” will only be fulfilled if HIV prevention remains high on the list of global health priorities. Scaling up access to proven prevention interventions, and continuing investment in the development of new tools, including microbicides and vaccines, must therefore feature prominently in the dialogue about achieving and moving beyond the Millennium Development Goals.
Today, IAVI joins its partners in celebrating our shared successes against HIV and committing ourselves, once again, to ending the pandemic and caring for those living with the virus. We take this opportunity to thank and honor all those who give so generously of themselves each day for that campaign—including the thousands around the world who volunteer for clinical research, the leaders and advocates who educate, inform and rally their communities behind those efforts, the funders and policymakers who invest in HIV prevention, care and support and the scientists and clinicians who push HIV research forward every day.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. Founded in 1996, IAVI works with partners in 25 countries to research, design and develop AIDS vaccine candidates. In addition, IAVI conducts policy analyses and serves as an advocate for the AIDS vaccine field. IAVI supports a comprehensive approach to addressing HIV and AIDS that balances the expansion and strengthening of existing HIV-prevention and treatment programs with targeted investments in the design and development of new tools to prevent HIV. IAVI is dedicated to ensuring that a future AIDS vaccine will be available and accessible to all who need it. IAVI relies on the generous donations from governments, private individuals, corporations and foundations to carry out its mission. For more information, please visit www.iavi.org.
Hester Kuipers Director Advocacy & Communications, Europe
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Lisa McCormick Acting Director, Communications
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