Countless HIV prevention methods are being researched around the world, but most of them fall under four categories: male circumcision, microbicides, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or vaccines. Today, May 18th, is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, but how close are we truly to an effective shot? Vaccine research and testing is a very slow, complicated process that requires several phases of medical trials with human volunteers in addition to years of research on chemical compounds that may be able prevent transmission of HIV.
Sadly, we’re probably years away from a vaccine, and even further away from a vaccine that is accessible to the people who need it most. Vaccines are tricky in that they usually have very specific storage requirements and require controlled temperature refrigeration–something that difficult to maintain in areas of the world where electricity and precise, reliable refrigeration are not always available.
The hope for an HIV vaccine is that one shot or a series of them will be able to prevent HIV transmission–making prevention of HIV more targeted and achievable without modification of behavior, which is absolutely one of the most difficult things to accomplish in public health. A vaccine would be useful to women who are vulnerable to infection, especially those who are subjected to sexual violence.
Last September, it was announced that trials for the vaccine RV144 which took place in Thailand from 2003 -2006 had shown some success. Researchers reported that the people who were given the vaccine had HIV infection rates 31% lower than the rate of HIV infection among those who weren’t given the vaccine. Some researchers say this is a notable success, while others maintain this number isn’t statistically significant.
Either way, there is a lot more work that needs to be done before we can observe an HIV Vaccine Awareness Day with a vaccine in-hand.
AVAC, a New York-based organization that does global advocacy for HIV prevention, has just released a 16-page excerpt of a report on the study, the full study will be released in July. In the meantime, IWHC continues to invest in approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support that effectively reach women and young people. To find out more about our work on HIV/AIDS and women, click here.