Scientists in South Africa have started testing a new HIV vaccine called “HVTN 702″ as part of a new study that aims to test whether it can safely prevent infections among South African adults. According to Live Science, the study, which is being funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and expected to run until 2020, will enroll about 5,400 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 who do not have HIV.
“If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV-prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” the director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in a statement.
“Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection.”
The new vaccine is a modified version of the trial tried in Thailand between 2003 and 2009, and scientists hope it will be able to protect against a sub-type of the virus known as the HIV sub-type C, which is very common in South Africa.
To make it more effective than the previous trial, scientists are using a protein sub-unit vaccine that contains a different adjuvant (an ingredient added to a vaccine to boost its effects).
The study will also include a booster shot, which will be admitted after one year to prolong the protective effect.
HIV Pandemic in South Africa
South Africa has the highest population of HIV victims in the world, with about 7 million people living with the virus as of 2015.
New HIV infections in the country stood at 380,000, while 180,000 South Africans died from AIDS last year.
The country also has the largest antiretroviral treatment program globally, which has mostly been financed by its public coffers.
Despite ongoing efforts by the government to address the HIV pandemic, the virus’s prevalence is still significantly high, with recent studies showing that it affects 19.2 percent of the general population.