Saturday, December 4, 2010

An Interview with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)

We'd like to thank Lauren Wesolowski, Communications Associate at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative for taking the time to answer some questions regarding the work that IAVI is doing. For more information, check them out at:

Please tell us about IAVI and the work that you are doing.
The mission of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is to ensure the development of preventive AIDS vaccines that are not only safe and effective, but also appropriate for and accessible to all people, including those in the developing world, where some 95% of new HIV infections occur. IAVI invests the bulk of its resources in the research and clinical assessment of candidate vaccines. IAVI works around the world to apply promising scientific ideas and technologies to the design and swift development of AIDS vaccines.

In developing countries, we work closely with governmental, civic and community organizations to ensure the transparent and ethical conduct of clinical trials.
We also analyze and develop policies to promote the involvement of the private sector in AIDS vaccine research and development. And we advocate for policies that will ensure that once an AIDS vaccine is developed, it will be swiftly produced and distributed and priced as inexpensively as possible worldwide.

What is a preventive vaccine?
A preventive vaccine is a substance introduced into the human body that teaches the immune system to detect and destroy a pathogen—which is a particular virus, bacterium or parasite that causes a preventable disease. All vaccines contain some harmless form or part of the pathogen they target. They exert their effects through the adaptive immune response, an arm of the immune system that learns to recognize and neutralize specific pathogens (as opposed to pathogens in general).

Traditionally, vaccines are the most cost-effective, high-impact public health interventions for coping with infectious disease. And an AIDS vaccine offers the best hope of ending, and not just mitigating, the pandemic.

Does an AIDS vaccine exist?

At this time, no licensed AIDS vaccine exists anywhere in the world. However, many AIDS vaccine candidates are being studied by researchers and some are being tested in clinical trials throughout the world.

Developing any vaccine takes a very long time. The polio vaccine, for example, took over 40 years to develop. An effective AIDS vaccine is particularly hard to develop for many reasons. The science involved in designing an AIDS vaccine is very complicated. HIV is very good at evading the immune system, making it hard for scientists to understand how to create the best immune response with a vaccine. Once scientists develop a possible vaccine, the process of testing it in animals and humans is very lengthy.

In 2009, in a clinical trial in Thailand, an AIDS vaccine candidate reduced the risk of HIV infection by about 30%. This was a modest result, but it did prove that an AIDS vaccine can work in humans. Now researchers are working to improve on that result.

How widespread is the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
In the 27 years since scientists identified HIV as the cause of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), it has spread relentlessly, causing one of the most devastating pandemics ever recorded in human history. Nearly 30 million people have died from HIV-related causes, and roughly 33.3 million are living with HIV.

AIDS remains the fourth leading cause of death globally. Every day 7,100 people worldwide become newly infected with HIV, and the most vulnerable people in the world continue to bear the heaviest burden of this merciless disease. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly three-quarters of all AIDS-related deaths in 2009. And the epidemic seems to be emerging with a new ferocity in other parts of the planet, including China, Indonesia, pockets of Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as in high-income countries like Germany, Britain and Australia.

How can the average person get involved and help?

An AIDS vaccine is the world's best hope for ending the epidemic. Giving to IAVI means helping to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world.
Donations help IAVI to conduct medical and scientific research; develop new AIDS vaccine candidates; build the capacity to conduct AIDS vaccine trials, including the construction of state-of-the-art laboratory and clinical facilities in developing countries; educate local communities most affected by the pandemic and engage them in the effort to develop an AIDS vaccine; increase awareness of and commitment to AIDS vaccine development; and advocate for the increased attention of policy makers to the need for an AIDS vaccine.

It’s also important to spread the word that the world needs an AIDS vaccine. You can connect with IAVI and help us share this important message through a variety of social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and LinkedIn.

To learn more about the AIDS Vaccine, please visit - IAVI

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