By: Ohemeng Tawiah, Bangkok, Thailand – African leaders are being challenged to commit themselves to the fight against HIV-AIDS by allocating more resources for research into finding a cure.
An official of HIV Vaccine Trials Network, an international collaboration of scientists searching for effective and safe vaccines, says Africa should go beyond donor recipients to contributing positively to HIV vaccine research.
Executive Director, Dr. James Kublin, says though the continent faces economic challenges, there is a lot Africa can offer if leadership demonstrates commitment.
He spoke to Nhyira FM’s Ohemeng Tawiah at a training programme for journalists ahead of this year’s AIDS Vaccine Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
The annual AIDS Vaccine Conference is the largest and most prestigious global scientific conference focusing exclusively on AIDS vaccine research over the past decade.
It provides a stage for cutting-edge HIV research presentation and debate among experts from across the globe.
Twenty journalists, four from Africa, were selected to participate in this year’s conference in Thailand.
Dr. Kublin is also Executive Director of the U.S Center for Collaborative Research, which supports collaborative global health research endeavours.
In 2009, collaboration between 25 institutions and several scientists led to the RV 144 vaccine trial which proved 31 per cent efficient in reducing the risk of HIV infection.
It is the biggest breakthrough in about 30 years in the history of HIV vaccine trials.
Dr. Kublin said research into HIV vaccines should be encouraged and supported at all levels.
He lauded efforts by scientists to find effective and safe HIV vaccines because he believes such intervention provides hope for people living with the disease.
Dr. Kublin however criticized African politicians for providing inaccurate data on HIV prevalence in their respective countries for political expediency.
Sub-Sahara Africa is the second largest region after Southern Africa and South-East Asia with 22.5 million people living with HIV AIDS.
He said though some African governments have done well, especially, in reducing discrimination and stigmatization, the same cannot be said of resource allocation for research.
Dr. Kublin believes any such contribution from African leaders would be “a great gesture no matter how small it would be.
“African countries now have many economic challenges. We know that, but I think it would be very encouraging to see African leadership contributing to HIV Vaccine research and development”, Dr. Kublin explained.
“It may not be a major portion of the work that is being done. But if they can contribute just a small amount, it would be a great gesture to the world that they are also committed to ending this global problem”.
“I would love to see more advocacies by the African politicians and leadership for HIV Vaccine research”.
African leaders over the years have been accused for painting false pictures of HIV in their countries for reasons best known to them.
“We have encountered challenges in the past because of misinformation from African leadership, now is an opportunity to move forward with the truth about how we can conquer HIV”. Dr. Kublin emphasized.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Programme on HIV AIDS reports of drop in funding for HIV /AIDS-related activities in the last two years.
Chief Scientific Adviser, Catherine Hankins, calls on world leaders to strategically invest more on HIV.
“Investing in HIV actually is important.It actually has a chance to nail the epidemic. So what we are doing is that, we are encouraging countries to invest more of their own funding’ she said.