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African AIDS Vaccine Programme needs US$ 233 million

ONLY 1.6% OF GLOBAL AIDS RESEARCH MONEY GOES TO AFRICA

WHO/UNAIDS: African scientists, multilateral and donor organizations, research agencies and industry will meet in Cape Town on 3-4 June to accelerate research and testing for the development of an AIDS vaccine for Africa. The meeting aims to define a plan of action for the next seven years, and to raise US$ 233 million for the African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP).

Two thirds of all people living with HIV are in Africa. African vaccine research currently receives only US$ 41 million of the US$ 2.5 billion — that is, 1.6% — spent on HIV research annually.

Although more than 30 HIV vaccine trials have been conducted globally since 1987, only two of these were carried out in Africa. Some HIV strains present in Africa are different from those present in other parts of the world and current vaccines tested in Asia or the US may not be appropriate for Africans.

"A vaccine for Africa would be the best long-term preventive measure against AIDS," explains Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "Enormous efforts should go into this initiative, which could help address the health and development tragedy that AIDS has become for many African countries."

Part of the strategy of AAVP is the active participation of African scientists and institutions. One of the major obstacles for HIV vaccine research on the continent is the inadequacy of research infrastructures. Some of the US$ 233 million required will contribute to building up regional facilities and strengthening local expertise.

"Considering that the average cost of developing a new prescription drug in the United States is US$ 800 million, US$ 233 million to save many lives seems a very inexpensive price tag," says Yasuhiro Suzuki, Executive Director for Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals at WHO.

Political support for and commitment to the AAVP was officially expressed by 15 west African countries and they pledged to contribute US$ 50.000 a year to implement common activities. The AAVP was also adopted by African Heads of State during the 2001 African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Abuja, Nigeria.

The AAVP has already supported the development of National AIDS Vaccine Plans in Nigeria and Tanzania. It is now seeking funds for product development and testing of appropriate candidate vaccines and to set up systems to make access as widely available as possible.

Only 21 years after AIDS was initially discovered 40 million people in the world are living with the HIV virus, and 70% of them are Africans. In fact, AIDS today is the leading cause of death in the continent and the fourth cause of death worldwide.

Every day 15.000 people become newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 95% of these infections are occurring in developing countries. That is why there is a growing consensus that an AIDS vaccine is the best long-term hope to control the AIDS epidemic, especially in developing countries.

The meeting in Cape Town will bring together scientists, politicians, industry and donors from all parts of the world, including from 15 African countries. Among the participants will be Dr Mantu Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African Health Minister, and Dr Awa Coll-Seck, Health Minister of Senegal. The meeting is organized by the World Health Organization and the UNAIDS Secretariat, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health of the United States, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the French Agency for Research on AIDS, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations.

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For more information contact:

Ms Daniela Bagozzi
Telephone: +41 22 791 4544
Mobile phone: +41 79 4755490
E-mail: bagozzid@who.int