Zimbabweans may soon be immunised against HIV transmission if trials for a vaccine to prevent the spread of the deadly virus expected to start in the near future are successful.
The trial will also be carried out in Zambia and Malawi, as Southern Africa steps up efforts to fight HIV.
Local scientists are working on the commencement of the vaccine trials.
Dr Stranix-Chibanda said they were conducting awareness campaigns in communities to ensure that processes involved in research and issues around vaccines are well understood.
After the awareness campaigns, recruitment of trial volunteers would start.
Dr Stranix-Chibanda said although more work still needed to be done at Seke South Clinic, which will be used for the research, they were close to having everything in place for the trial.
The study protocol was undergoing final revisions prior to being submitted for approval to regulatory authorities.
“While this delay may be frustrating, it emphasises the systematic process researchers and regulators follow to protect the safety and rights of participants,” Dr Stranix-Chibanda said.
She said the processes will see the trial beginning between October and December this year instead of the initial proposed dates in August.
“We will not be able to start the trial until the revised protocol has undergone full review and approval by all the regulatory bodies in Zimbabwe,” she said. “This would be the first time Zimbabwe is participating in an HIV vaccine trial.”
The study known as HVTN 107 is expected to recruit participants over a period of six months and follow them up very closely for three years to evaluate the vaccine product’s effect on the immune system and monitor for side effects.
Dr Stranix-Chibanda said it could take some time to conclude if the vaccines prevent new HIV infections.
“A product’s safety must first be verified in small studies before large scale trials are conducted to see if it actually works to prevent new infections,” she said. “This is quite normal in vaccine research, the polio vaccine took 70 years to develop.”
Dr Stranix-Chibanda said it was important for Zimbabwe and the region to take part in such trials for HIV prevention because of the burden of the disease.
The product earmarked for trial in the three Southern African countries is based on a similar vaccine tested in Thailand a few years ago, whose results showed 60 percent protection in preventing HIV infections among adults in the first year after vaccination.
The product used in Thailand was modified for the HIV strain in Southern Africa.
Only the Thailand study out of six major vaccine studies conducted so far has promised to prevent new HIV infections.
A number of such trials will be conducted across Southern Africa to test different regimens of the virus.
Addressing journalists at a media symposium on HIV vaccines held in Zambia recently, a scientist with the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia Dr Margaret Kasaro said a vaccine was the answer to ending the spread of HIV.
Dr Kasaro said a vaccine that has a 30 percent chance of protecting people from getting HIV when administered to about 20 percent of the people who need protection can save up to six million lives.
Facilitated by AVAC – an organisation involved in simplifying science for the ordinary person, the media symposium was attended by journalists from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.