Durban is a hive of activity today ahead of the official opening of the 21st International Aids Conference tonight.
Security forces are out in numbers while streets around the International Convention Centre (ICC) have been cordoned off.
Inside the ICC, symposiums and other high-level meetings have already started taking place and prevention of HIV infection seems to be a common theme in these various meetings.
This morning, a session on HIV vaccine trials was well attended with Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, telling City Press that the search for an HIV vaccine is showing promising results.
But she warned that, “it will take years before we can have a vaccine that has a high percentage in efficacy”.
“We are currently recruiting for the HVTN 702 study, a Phase 2b/3 efficacy clinical trial that aims to determine if the vaccine is safe, tolerable and effective at preventing HIV infection among South African adults. This experimental vaccine regimen is based on the one tested in the first study to show that a vaccine can protect people from HIV infection in Thailand,” she said.
The Thai vaccine, or RV144 vaccine as it is called, made headlines across the world in 2009 when it showed that it could protect against HIV infection by up to 31% when tested in Thailand.
The findings were hailed as a breakthrough in the decades-long struggle to develop an effective HIV vaccine.
Following its success, South Africa launched a follow-up trial HVTN100 in 2015, a modified version of the vaccine to test it for safety and to see if the regimen induces the predicted immune system response. More than 250 South Africans participated in the study and responded very well to the vaccine, said Gray.
“This is why we are now moving to the next phase which is HVTN702. We are hoping that by the end of this study we would have achieved a 50% efficacy rate,” she said.