Testing sites for vaccines

UGANDA, Rwanda, Brazil and Thailand have been identified by the World Health Organisation as testing sites whenever an AIDS vaccine is ready. So far, only Uganda has agreed to the proposed large-scale trials though responses from the other countries are still awaited. India refused to provide a testing site for the vaccine on the grounds that it is unethical to experiment with the vaccine before they are proven safe and effective in the country of manufacture.

Stephen Lwanga, director general of the Uganda AIDS Commission, told the conference he was "puzzled" by the reasons offered for such trials in developing countries, when AIDS is "an equally serious problem in Europe and the US".

Lwanga said Uganda would benefit from an effective vaccine and is therefore "ready to collaborate, but not ready to be used". He informed the conference that his country had agreed to the trials on two conditions -- the vaccines, if found useful, should be made available at low cost; and, two, that in case of "unforeseen events", adequate reparation would be made.

A demand that the anti-AIDS vaccine, when ready would be low-priced, was made by several of the delegates, but pharmaceutical manufacturers refused to commit themselves to this.

Daniel Hoth of the US National Institute of Health said 12 vaccines had been tested so far on a small scale; and, of these, two are ready for large-scale trials.

As to apprehensions that commercial interests may start marketing of these vaccines far too early, Hoth urged that immediate testing of the vaccines is essential. Even an imperfect vaccine developed within the next five years, he said, would save more lives than a near-perfect vaccine a decade later.

But June Osborne, head of the UN National AIDS Commission, noted arguments that call for greater emphasis on preventive measures, rather than vaccines. "A vaccine may well be a mixed blessing if it replaces, rather than supplements, preventive programmes," Osborne said. An effective vaccine, she explained, would be an invaluable supplement to existing HIV prevention programmes but it could not replace them.

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