Hope For HIV Vaccine Still Alive Despite Halted Imbokodo Trial

By Kelvin Mbewe

For over 40 years since the discovery of HIV, an HIV vaccine has eluded researcher’s world over. This has however not stopped institutions such as the US national institutes of health, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Janseen vaccines and prevention BV to continue funding research that endeavors to finding an HIV vaccine.

Such a recent study is the Imbokodo (HVTN705) vaccine trial which was conducted in 5 five Southern African countries namely Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The word “Imbokodo” means “Rock”

It comes from a popular South African proverb which says–“Wathint’Abafazi,Wathint’Imbokodo!”

This means: “You strike the women, you Strike the Rock”!

It interprets the strength of a woman.

Meanwhile as the search for the HIV vaccine continues, the virus has also not stopped infecting and affecting people from all walks of life world over.

The UNAIDS global HIV and AIDS statistics fact sheet for 2020 indicate that 30.2-45.1 million people globally were living with hiv in that year. The report further states that 680,000 lives were lost from AIDS related illnesses in 2020. These numbers are very alarming if you ask me.

Personally, I have lost friends and family from HIV and I know that a lot of people out there are either infected or affected.

It is for this reason that I think initiatives such as the Imbokodo HIV vaccine research trial need to be commended because an hiv vaccine can save a lot of lives.

According to the information that I have gathered after taking keen interest in science journalism, the reason why it is taking longer to find a vaccine for hiv than it has for covid 19 is because HIV replicates itself in the body of a person that is living with the virus and becomes one with that person. However, some people that got infected with covid 19 recovered without any medical intervention.

This makes HIV more complex than covid 19.

Back to the imbokodo HIV vaccine trial, the research was testing two experimental vaccines against HIV. The study vaccines where called ad26.mos4.HIV and clade c gp140.

A vaccine trial is a process of investigating weather a certain vaccines or vaccine can achieve risk reduction of disease acquisition such as hiv.

So The Imbokodo trial enrolled over 2,627 women aged between 18-35 in 43 sites divided among the five participating countries.

The reason why this study was done in Southern Africa is because of the high prevalence rate of HIV among adolescent young girls Southern Africa.

HIV studies of 2008-2011 indicate that young women have up to 8 times more HIV than men.

For the safety of the trial participants, the regulatory authories had to approve the safety of the trials after carrying out local safety trials. In Zambia trials had to get approval from the Zambia Medicines and Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA), the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) , the National health research authority (NHRA) and University of Zambia Biometric Research Ethics (UNZABREC).

The idea was to follow up on the lives of the trial participants and analyse weather the two vaccines given to them can prevent acquisition of HIV. And to further prevent HIV acquisition, the participants where also provided with other preventive measures such as condom provision, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP), contraception, couple couselling among others as risk reduction measures.

The trial went on for …….months and the participants had to also undergo hiv testing regularly.

Another important part of research which was adhered to during this research trial was the informed consent. This was to ensure that the participants fully understood the process that they had to undergo as trial participants.

To aid the informed consent process at screening visit for Imbokodo trial, participant that met pre-eligibility criteria were invited to Vaccine Education Sessions (VES) in groups of 4 to 8 individuals.

VES was designed to cover material included in the informed consent form and after the Vaccine Education Sessions, the participant underwent an evaluation to asses their understanding as well as willingness to participate.

The process involved administering the vaccines and placebo(a fake vaccine), half of the participants where administered the placebo while the other half where given the vaccines.

The final analysis showed that there where some infections in both the placebo arm and in the vaccine arm.

This according to medical personnel is an indication that the vaccines where not efficacious because they did not provide the desired protection against HIV acquisition.

However, despite not providing the desired protection against HIV acquisition the vaccines where safe to humans.

They did not have any effect on the participants.

The trial has been halted but other HIV vaccine trials such as the

Mosaico trial in America and Europe.

Despite the halting of the Imbokodo HIV vaccine trial, there is a lot of

hope for an HIV vaccine.

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