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South Africa to launch trials of Aids vaccine

South Africa is launching clinical trials of the first Aids vaccines created by a developing country, a feat by scientists who forged ahead even when some of their political leaders shocked the world with unscientific pronouncements about the disease.


Trials to test the safety in humans of the vaccines begin this month on 36 healthy volunteers, Anthony Mbewu, president of South Africa's government-supported Medical Research Council, said in an interview.

Mr Mbewu's organisation shepherded the project.

A trial of 12 volunteers in the United States began earlier this year.

Mr Mbewu said the vaccine was designed at the University of Cape Town with technical help from the US National Institutes of Health, which also manufactured the vaccine.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and a leading Aids researcher, was in South Africa for the launch.

During nearly 10 years of denial and neglect, South Africa developed a staggering Aids crisis. Around 5.2 million South Africans were living with HIV last year - the highest number of any country in the world. Young women are hardest hit, with one-third of those aged 20 to 34 infected with the virus.

In 1999, the ministries of health and of science and technology founded the vaccine initiative and poured 250 million rand into it over nearly 10 years.

Some 250 scientists and technicians worked on the project, along the way gaining scores of doctorates and producing work for professional publications as well as a model for continued biotechnology development in South Africa.

The government decided it was important to develop a vaccine specifically for the HIV subtype C strain that is prevalent in southern Africa "and to ensure that once developed, it would be available at an affordable price," Mr Mbewu said.

"We have the biggest problem" in the world, Mr Mbewu said on the sidelines of an international Aids conference in Cape Town.

"Every emerging country is trying, wants to develop their own capacity to design and develop vaccines - Brazil, Korea," Mr Mbewu said.

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