HIV Vaccine Awareness Day: Science for the people, by the people

17 May 2019

Today is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on how some of the world’s most exciting research is made possible and why that matters.

The last year has been a fantastic year for vaccines research. We’ve seen two new clinical trials kick-off to test novel vaccine designs that build on over 15 years of concerted research. Other trials in sub-Saharan Africa are advancing well and a licensure study is around the corner. The first clinical trial to test vaccine efficiency for people on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) used to prevent HIV infection is about to get started. The breakthrough results from the M72 TB vaccine trial promise to be truly transformational for people at risk of TB/HIV. For the first time in a very long time, it really feels like new, effective vaccines against HIV and TB are within reach and that is incredibly exciting.

What many people don’t know is that the scientists behind these breakthroughs aren’t just sat in laboratories in the world’s richest countries. Instead, Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) like the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) have spent years building up research capacity around the world. Thanks to funding from governments like the USA and the UK, clinical research centres have been established throughout Africa and in India, with a truly global network of the world’s cleverest people doing the basic science, epidemiological and clinical research that will one day deliver effective vaccines against diseases like HIV and TB.

These kinds of investments make scientific sense. Research questions have to be based on experience on the ground. For clinical trials to produce valuable results they need to be conducted in the places where a disease is most prevalent. For breakthroughs to be rapidly rolled out, we need to understand how to use them in practice.

Perhaps most importantly, these investments also build the support and trust of the communities that are at the heart of this scientific progress. The people who participate in clinical trials do so because they see the devastating impact of diseases like HIV and TB first hand. In the majority of cases, they volunteer in the knowledge that while they are unlikely to benefit themselves.

For that to be possible, communities need to have a solid understanding of the science and the transformative impact that an effective vaccine against HIV or TB would have. The sense of ownership built as a result is vital to ensuring long term clinical trials can be completed and that people have a well-founded sense of trust in medical interventions.  By building research infrastructure in high-burden countries, investing in community engagement and insisting that research outcomes are made accessible to the people that need them, PDPs like IAVI make science that is for the people, by the people.

So next time you read about some exciting new scientific breakthrough, remember the partnership and cooperation that lie at the heart of making that research possible, from trial participants, community representatives, educators, lab technicians, and scientists all around the world. Indeed, as a RESULTS UK grassroots campaigner, you will have played your own role in making sure that PDPs receive the funding necessary to make all this possible.

To find out more about the work product development partnerships like IAVI and TB Alliance are doing to strengthen research capacity globally, you can visit their website here and here. You can also read this great interview by the Treatment Action Group on the role of community advisory boards in making sure clinical trials have community consent and engagement built in.

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Janika Hauser

Parliamentary Advocacy Officer (Tuberculosis)

Janika is the Parliamentary Advocacy Officer for tuberculosis. She’s committed to ending TB by 2030, so hopes to be out of a job soon. Janika spends her days engaging parliamentarians with RESULTS’ work on TB. She also serves as the Policy Advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on TB,...

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