Having worked in the HIV/AIDS realm for many years, I’ve gotten my share of questions on when I think an effective vaccine will finally be discovered and the world will bear witness to an AIDS free generation. Some wonder why, after 30 years, our path towards finding a cure for HIV—a virus that has taken the lives of more than 25 million people around the globe since it first surfaced—remains complex and plagued with so many challenges. Others are just plain frustrated with what they feel has become a fictional idea.
What people often forget is that vaccines for diseases that have been eliminated—such as polio and smallpox—have taken, in many cases, decades to develop. Discovering an effective vaccine, especially one for a virus that is so tricky and where the body has no naturally protective response, takes enormous dedication, persistence and research.
Dedication, persistence and research: all qualities in which USAID is well-versed and has a longstanding history. Since the early years of the epidemic, USAID was steadfast in supporting initiatives dedicated to prevention and finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. This is just as true today as it was 30 years ago. The Agency, just this month, renewed its commitment to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a longtime partner and leading research NGO whose mission is to discover and make accessible a preventive AIDS vaccine.
In partnership with IAVI, USAID will continue to be a global thought leader and leading voice on the importance of the discovery of an effective vaccine for HIV/AIDS. USAID has made it a priority to continue supporting leading organizations dedicated to working in this area. To date, USAID-supported IAVI studies have led to the discovery of the first of now several powerful, broadly neutralizing antibodies capable of blocking HIV, which were isolated from an African donor. IAVI has also developed novel vectors that show great promise in pre-clinical stages.
I am also pleased to see IAVI expand its partnerships with other U.S. Government agencies, such as its collaboration on the National Institute of Health’s HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTW). IAVI has also built capacity in countries, such as in Kenya where the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative is currently a model for developing country research institutions, capable of rigorously and ethically evaluating AIDS vaccine candidates and playing a crucial role in the global quest for the vaccine.
Investing in science, technology and innovation is imperative to be strategic and cost effective in our fight against AIDS. New technologies can dramatically improve health and development outcomes, resulting in pivotal progress toward preventing new infections in the developing world, where the burden of HIV is most painfully felt. New biomedical prevention tools are of critical importance in this battle – particularly that of a safe and effective HIV vaccine. We must continue to build our arsenal of biomedical prevention tools, given the game-changing impact they can have both on global health outcomes and overall economic development.
I am delighted that our work with partners, like IAVI, will continue as we strive to find an effective vaccine – a tool that is essential in our fight against HIV/AIDS.