Epidemic requires a vaccine. Perseverance and innovation are key. Volunteers are heroes.
NEW YORK, November 29, 2007 – World AIDS Day, observed on December 1, is a sobering reminder for all of us that the toll from AIDS continues to mount, with no end to the pandemic in sight. Despite the good news released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this month that there are fewer people living with HIV and fewer annual infections than previously estimated, AIDS remains the fourth leading cause of death globally and the primary cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 33 million people are living with HIV, with 7,000 new HIV infections occurring daily.
As we approach World AIDS Day, IAVI calls for expanded access to existing treatment and prevention methods, as well as a stronger focus on new prevention technologies, particularly an AIDS vaccine – the one intervention that can eliminate AIDS from the map. Even a partially-effective vaccine could prevent millions of new infections.
Today, despite expanded access to treatment, only a minority of those who urgently need life-saving drugs in low- and middle-income countries have access to them. Moreoever, the costs of providing treatment continue to escalate exponentially in the absence of a vaccine to curb new infections. UNAIDS projected in September that the pricetag of universal access to AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support would be roughly $42 billion a year by 2010. Even with a 20 percent cost reduction to reflect the revised epidemiological figures, spending on AIDS would have to go from a tenth to a quarter of all overseas development assistance.
Although prevention programs may have helped reduce the number of annual HIV infections globally, in many countries these programs are not reaching those who are most at risk, including women, young people, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as certain high-risk groups. Women, in particular, lack access to prevention approaches that do not require the cooperation of men.
Perseverance and innovative ideas are needed to move the AIDS vaccine field forward. Vaccines are powerful tools but can take decades to develop. It took nearly 50 years to develop a vaccine for polio. A serious AIDS vaccine effort has only existed for ten years. The field also needs fresh, bold approaches to develop the next generation of vaccine candidates. More work is required in the promising field of replicating vectors and in the search for candidates that would activate the antibody arm of the immune system, rather than the T-cell arm, which is the basis of most candidates now in the pipeline, including the Merck product that recently failed.
Last, but certainly not least important, IAVI commends the many AIDS vaccine trial volunteers. Thanks to their dedication, AIDS vaccine researchers are able to gather vital data that informs future vaccine design, helps with the prioritization of candidates in the pipeline and guides decisions on how to best proceed with future trials. Their commitment is an inspiration for all AIDS vaccine researchers and advocates, as well as for the communities around the world that are most severely impacted by the disease.
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 and operational in 24 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI's financial and in-kind supporters include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, The John D. Evans Foundation, The New York Community Trust, the James B. Pendleton Charitable Trust, The Rockefeller Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Basque Autonomous Government as well as the European Union; multilateral organizations such as The World Bank; corporate donors including BD, Continental Airlines, Google Inc., Henry Schein, Inc., Merck & Co., Inc. and Pfizer Inc; leading AIDS charities such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Until There's A Cure Foundation; other private donors such as The Haas Trusts; and many generous individuals from around the world. For more information, see www.iavi.org