Genomic resource centre

Global applications of genomics in healthcare: Kenya

Testing the AIDS vaccine

Setting: community

Focus of Intervention: patients and families/community


AIDS vaccine trials have been occurring in Africa, since 1986, when scientists tried to test a vaccine in Zaire. About fifteen years later, scientists have come up with a more promising way to treat the AIDS population of Africa. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative has been working closely with various organizations and communities to develop this vaccine.


Scientists realized that a group of sex workers in Kenya had a particular resistance to the HIV virus, not developing symptoms despite repeated exposure to HIV over a duration of time. Researched showed that these women did not have any special antobodies in their blood, though many women have leukocytes that destroy HIV. Thus a proposed vaccine has been developed by a collaboration between Oxford University, the University of Nairobi, and a few others groups, and sponsored by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The vaccine contains two parts: a DNA vaccine intended to target immune responses against HIV, and a smallpox vaccine to accelerate that response.


The sex workers who are used as models for developing this vaccine, are maintaining their resistance against HIV. Results challenge the robustness of natural immunity when some sex workers previously resistant to the virus became infected after taking a break from sex work and returning. Furthermore, immunity to one strain of HIV might not protect against another. Thus, trials are being conducted, and scientists must determine if immunity is natural or due to repeated exposure, or a combination of both. AIDS vaccine work is also being conducted in other African nations, as well as in India.