May 18th is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD) where we appreciate all those pushing for a safe and successful HIV Vaccine and spread awareness on the importance of research and development.
Living with HIV
Kenya has the third highest HIV prevalence rate globally with 1.5 million people living with HIV. Despite the progress made in HIV awareness, treatment, and care in Kenya and globally, it is important to highlight that many continue to experience discrimination, stigma and structural inequalities which are barriers to accessing prevention methods and treatment.
In addition to this, the intersection between gender inequality, gender-based violence, poverty, and a lack of access to education and quality healthcare have meant that women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and have a heightened risk of infection.
International AIDS vaccine initiative - what has been the progress with HIV treatment?
Since the 1980s there has been significant change in decreasing HIV related deaths globally. HIV prevention methods such as condoms, Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), antiretroviral therapy (ART), Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (Prep) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) play an important role in managing the virus and decreasing HIV prevalence.
ART is an HIV treatment that helps many people living with HIV to manage the progression of the virus by maintaining viral suppression which contributes towards long and healthy lives.
In Kenya and many communities affected by HIV, ART has assisted in the prevention of transmission through PrEP and the prevention of mother to child transmission. According to UNICEF the number of children living with HIV in Kenya reduced from 180 000 in 2010 to 111500 in 2020.
Since Nyumbani received access to ART for all children in 2005, over 18 000 children have received support from one of Nyumbani's programmes and a number of grandparents. This has been possible with the support of patrons, donors, and the community at large.
So…if there are methods of prevention and treatment for HIV, why is a vaccine important?
Although there have been developments with the HIV/AIDS response, in order to reach the end of the global epidemic, it is pivotal to have a preventative and therapeutic HIV vaccine in combination with education and current treatment.
Progress has been made with a recent phase 1 clinical trial establishing the safe and potentially effective course of vaccinations which initiate and develop a rare immune cell which could produce anti bodies which protect people from HIV. There is currently no therapeutic vaccine available, but researchers have been working towards its development
The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the existing need to prioritise the development and accessibility of vaccines globally and particularly to marginalised and disadvantaged communities.
As we continue to advocate for research, funding, and policy changes, we also acknowledge the multitude of researchers, activists, funders, health professionals and volunteers who work towards the development of a safe, accessible, and effective HIV vaccine.
Written by Zoe Kamangira