Experts deliberate over all time relevance of an HIV-AIDS vaccine

While the India’s HIV epidemic is slowing down with a 32 percent decline in new infections during 2015, experts feel that the development of vaccine is still very important

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New Delhi: To celebrate and reflect on the progress of HIV vaccine research and development in India, the International AIDS Vaccine initiative (IAVI), organised a panel discussion titled “HIV under the Microscope: The Quest for a Vaccine”, in the national capital recently on the occasion of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.
The discussion was led by speakers from the National Aids Control Organization (NACO), a division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, World Health Organisation (WHO) and community members, with participation from thought leaders from research and civil service organisations to facilitate informed reflections on the AIDS epidemic in India.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr KS Sachdeva, Deputy Director General, NACO, said, “Advocacy for HIV is in the evolutionary stage. This is one disease where the social context is more relevant that the treatment context. Standing at an inflexion point one can say that much has been achieved. We are close to almost eliminating HIV/AIDS.” However, emphasising on the need for a vaccine, Dr Sachdeva added, “Despite the programme advancement, vaccine will remain important. You never know when the disease can resurface. Vaccine itself is the most effective prevention tool.”
(R-L) Dr Nicole Seguy, Simran Shaikh, Dr K S Sachdeva, Gautam Yadav and Dr Nikhil Singla engaging with the participants at HIV Under the Microscope: Quest for a Vaccine event organised by the IAVI.
(R-L) Dr Nicole Seguy, Simran Shaikh, Dr K S Sachdeva, Gautam Yadav and Dr Nikhil Singla engaging with the participants at HIV Under the Microscope: Quest for a Vaccine event organised by the IAVI.
Also exhibited at the event, were select illustrations by the leading illustrator, Indu Harikumar, which emerged from a participatory workshop organised by IAVI, involving at-risk community members and people living with HIV. The workshop was aimed at seeking community’s perspectives, wherein the participants shared experiences about living with HIV, their motivation to participate in research and their hopes from a vaccine.
In 2015, HIV prevalence in India was an estimated 0.26 percent of total population. India has almost 2.1 million people living with HIV. Good news is that India’s HIV epidemic is slowing down, with a 32 percent decline in new HIV infections (86,000 in 2015), and a 54 percent decline in AIDS-related deaths between 2007 and 2015. Also, with the medicinal interventions, the patients can now have near to usual efficiency.
Sharing her experience on how we can accelerate HIV treatment prevention, Ms Nicole Seguy, Team Leader for Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization, India country office, said, “It is unique that we have had this history of working together and going forward in a connected way. We are moving towards elimination but we will have some bottlenecks along the way. Vaccine will be welcomed as that will be an additional tool. We should not miss that momentum just because money is decreasing. Together, we can find solutions to the resources issues.”
The participants during their discussion submitted that a vaccine is essential to conclusively end AIDS. Even with strongly increased funding and implementation of current treatment and prevention programme, hundreds of thousands of people will be newly infected with HIV annually, for decades to come.
“I am the happiest trans-woman living with HIV. The entire HIV epidemic has made to be where I can be sitting in from of you and addressing you all. The entire visibility of sexual minorities came into limelight, because of HIV,” emphasized, Ms Simran Shaikh, India HIV/AIDS Alliance. She also added, “Today we are at such a place where the government has committed their commitment towards this. Funding is drying at every stage, but its not only in India, it’s a global issue.”
The workshop also looked into issues like- challenges experienced by people living with HIV and why they wish for a vaccine; why are affected community not willing to participate in research; what does vaccine research entail and what are the current challenges etc.