14 November 2007

HIV trial: Manto wants answers

All HIV vaccine trials in SA have been put on hold following the failure of the Phambili HIV vaccine trial.

All HIV vaccine trials in SA have been put on hold following the failure of the Phambili HIV vaccine trial.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Wednesday invited researchers who worked on the Phambili-trial to her office in Pretoria to explain the reasons why the vaccine trial was stopped.

She complained that they had not informed her of the suspension of the trial and that she had had to find out about it in the media.

She also blamed the media for not writing enough about the vaccine trials.

Vaccine raised risk
The SA trial of the experimental vaccine was at first paused in September and then suspended in October after similar trials in the United States showed signs that the vaccine somehow raised the risk of infection.

SA researchers were still waiting for 67 of the 799 people who took part in the trial to return to the sites where they received the shot to be tested, before they could decide if similar results were found in SA.

It could take six weeks to finalise the results after the last person has been tested, said Professor Glenda Gray of the prenatal HIV Unit at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, the national principal investigator for the Phambili trial.

Pending the outcome of the research on why the vaccine in the United States had raised the risk of contracting HIV, and whether or not this was the case in SA, all vaccine trials in the country have been put on hold.

Two new trials on the way
Professor Anthony Mbewu, president of the Medical Research Council, said there were no current trials ongoing, but two trials due to start early next year would be affected.

"We are committed to research, but it can not be research at all costs," Tshabalala-Msimang said.

The Phambili study - or HVTN 503 as it was known in research circles - began enrolling vaccinating participants in January this year.

Since then 799 people had been enrolled and 55 were fully immunised. They would be told who had received the vaccine and who had received the placebo.

The study was conducted at five sites in Soweto, Cape Town, Klerksdorp, Pretoria and Durban. – (Sapa)

Read more:
Promising HIV trial fails
HIV/Aids Centre


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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