Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Fresh Plan for HIV Vaccine Starts

A revised national plan targeting possible development of HIV vaccine Tuesday came into effect, nearly 13 years after it buckled under financial and administrative challenges.

The National HIV Vaccine Plan, developed by National Agency for Control of AIDS and its partners--US Department of Defence and SI Consulting--hopes to bring the country back into global efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, said NACA director general John Idoko.

"We need to be part of this vaccine initiative; we need to take it beyond what we did last time," Idoko said.

He remarked that Nigeria needed to pilot its own efforts in HIV vaccine research because serotypes of HIV mostly found in the country were not part of vaccine constructs in countries where research was underway.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who officially launched the revised plan, developed this year, said it demonstrated Nigeria's lead role "in promoting global policies on the continent and a resolve to ensure continuous decline of Nigeria's burden of HIV.

The plan shows "Nigeria is taking concrete steps to contribute to the fight against HIV," said Terence McCulley, ambassador of the US, which commits nearly $600 million a year to health programmes in Nigeria.

Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu suggested that developing a vaccine seemed a "tall order" but insisted it could be achieved with hard work.

"The review of the plan will not be in vain," he said through a representative, Dr Evelyn Ngige.

Call for action

Dr Ogbonnaya Njoku, director of science at US DoD's Walter Reed Programme, which collaborated on the NHVP, called for a line of budget to activate the plan, saying,"what's more important now is not just the plan, but the implementation."

The 68-page plan details how to build and enhance capacity for HIV vaccine research, strengthen regulations and scientific processes, ensure a proper research framework for possible vaccine trial.

Idoko said Nigeria would remain open to new prevention technologies targeting HIV but needed to join the global effort on a vaccine; still the only means of completely halting HIV.

He also noted that despite a 25% decline in Nigeria's HIV prevalence between 2001 and 2010, the country's population means it still has the world's second largest burden of HIV after South Africa.

An estimated 1.5 million people living with the virus need treatment but available therapy only covers 500,000 people--a mere third of people in need of antiretroviral drugs.

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