AIDS experts say new vaccine trial may offer hope for a cure

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At the end of 2015, about 36.7 million people had been living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to UNAIDS. But new initiatives, including a clinical trial for an HIV vaccine in South Africa, as well as a campaign to help children stay free of AIDS, are giving advocates hope that more lives can be saved from the devastating illness in the coming years.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the primary hurdles societies face in preventing transmission of HIV is individuals’ lack of a diagnosis.

Dr. Rowena Johnston, vice president and director of research at the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), said ensuring people who are at risk of becoming infected with HIV are taking protective medication is another major obstacle. Through research, amfAR’s goal is to develop the scientific basis for a cure to AIDS by 2020.

Johnston called the clinical trial in South Africa “exciting.”

“They have a really good lead, and they understand what might work,” she told, “and here they are out in the field testing to see if we can prevent HIV through a vaccine.”

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The study, called HVTN 702, aims to enroll 5,400 sexually active men and women aged between 18 and 35 at 15 sites across South Africa. Researchers are launching the trial after a 2009 study of the same vaccine in Thailand found HVTN 702 was 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5 years of follow-up after the vaccination.

The Africa trial will be the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people a day are infected with HIV.

“HIV is not evenly distributed,” Dr. Beryl A. Koblin, head of the New York Blood Center Laboratory of Infectious Disease Prevention, told “[The virus] tends to concentrate in areas that have, particularly among women … high levels of poverty, [where] there may not be a lot of resources."

Like amfAR, the WHO has pledged to put an end to AIDS in the near future, 2030.

Of those people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2015, an estimated 1.8 million who were children, according to UNAIDS.

Chip Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glasser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, is working through the research and advocacy organization to help children live healthy lives cleared of the potentially life-threatening disease. While he urged the importance of government leadership across the globe, he said they have the tools to achieve their goal.

“We have the approaches, [and] we have the experience and data to accomplish that,” Lyons told

Researchers expect to have results for the HVTN 702 trial by late 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.