5 April 2013

Kenya: HIV Vaccine Research Scaled Up

Nairobi — The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) says that scientists have scaled up their efforts in search of a HIV vaccine saying people should not despair.

KEMRI Deputy Director Elizabeth Bukusi explained that it had been difficult to get a HIV vaccine because the virus attacks and incapacitates the immune system making it hard to track it.

She added that getting surrogate markers to try the efficacy of the vaccine had also been a great and costly challenge to the research.

"When you attack the very system that is supposed to be protecting an individual it becomes very devastating. This is something that fights the very system that should be fighting it," he explained.

Bukusi also said that the nature of HIV and the way that it was constantly changing had been challenging.

She added that researchers were trying to figure out the best mode of giving the vaccine however maintaining that people should not forget about prevention methods that were already available including condoms.

She gave, as an example that researchers were working on a vaginal ring that is laced with anti-HIV gel that could be given to women for about a month during, which she would be protected from contracting the virus.

"There are studies that are already looking at rings that are impregnated with an antiretroviral treatment. Women will have to insert the ring if it works and then maybe we can get a ring that they can use for three months before changing it," she explained.

She further explained that researchers were looking into developing a vaccine that could be administered through an injection.

The gel has already been tried in South Africa and it was successful. Women had to insert the colourless gel on a daily basis. In Botswana, scientists placed a group of women on an oral anti-HIV tablet and the trial was also successful.

Bukusi however noted that the individuals who were placed on both the gel and the pills, on a trial basis, had to adhere to strict timelines.

"If we find out that the issue why these drugs don't always work is because some individuals do not adhere, then the next thing would be to find out an injection that is long lasting," she said.

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