28 March 2013

Mozambique's First HIV Vaccine Trial Heralds New Era in Local Research

Mozambique has completed its first HIV vaccine trial and is set to embark on a second, a demonstration of the country's increased HIV research capacity.

This week, researchers at Mozambique's Polana Cancio Centre for Research and Public Health completed a trial evaluating the safety of an HIV vaccine candidate. The study was conducted through the UK HIV Vaccine Consortium's Tanzania and Mozambique HIV Vaccine Programme (TaMoVac). Preliminary results from the Phase I trial indicated the vaccine was safe, but researchers say it will be months before they know if the vaccine produced an immune response in participants.

The country also launched its second HIV vaccine trial, this one of a Phase II HIV vaccine candidate, also through TaMoVac, this week. As part of this multi-site study, which is taking place in both Mozambique and Tanzania, Mozambique will recruit 20 percent of the 200-patient sample.

According to Ilesh Jani, director general of Mozambique's National Institute of Health, the studies, while small, mark important first steps towards bolstering clinical trial and research capacity for diseases such as HIV and malaria. These diseases, along with malnutrition, continue to drive death rates in the country.

"We should be in the driver's seat, not sitting in the back of the car waiting for someone to find the answer," Jani told IRIN/PlusNews. "We need to get involved and take leadership to find the solutions."

"Maybe we don't yet have the capacity to develop these products in the lab, but we have the capacity to test them and accelerate discovery," he added.

Larger HIV vaccines trials in the pipeline

The centre - which is located on the outskirts of the capital city, Maputo - aims to help the National Institute of Health understand the health concerns of the country's increasingly peri-urban population.

"Maybe half of Mozambique will be living in peri-urban areas in the next 10 years," Jani said. "It's a setting where we don't completely understand the determinants of health."

Understanding these determinants will require household mapping and an HIV prevalence study. Researchers at the centre expect that this study will show an HIV prevalence rate of at least three percent in the local community.

If this is true, Polana Cancio could become a clinical research site for larger, more advanced HIV vaccine trials. Nationally, Mozambique has an HIV prevalence rate of about 11 percent, according to UNAIDS.

The centre will also be conducting a study into common causes of fever.

Jani added that, while it might not be possible for the all the products tested by the centre to enter the market patent-free, he hopes that products tested at the centre - and found to be effective - will be affordable for use in countries like Mozambique.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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