A vaccine that protects people with HIV/Aids from being co-infected with tuberculosis may be available in the near future as results of a TB vaccine trial for HIV-infected patients show promising results.
Tuberculosis and HIV are inextricably intertwined since the risk of developing TB in persons carrying HIV is greatly increased due to their compromised immune systems.
With South Africa's high HIV-infection rate, a large portion of the population is therefore at particularly high risk of developing TB. Currently as many as 60% of South African TB patients are also infected with HIV, according to Dr Okey Nwanyanwu from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We welcome this study that specifically focussed on HIV patients," says Lesley Odendal, TB/HIV researcher for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). "HIV and TB co-infection is an enormous problem in South Africa with rates as high as 80% in some communities."
Odendal emphasises that once further trials prove this product to be safe and it is approved, it should become immediately available in the country's public health sector. "It should become part of the package of care for all people receiving treatment for HIV."
Vaccine trial successfulThe study called the "DarDar study" was conducted in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It was a placebo-controlled seven year efficacy trial among 2 000 HIV-infected subjects.
Investigators from Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) in the US and from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) in Tanzania reported in Paris at the 39th Union World Conference on Lung Health on the successful trial of a new vaccine against tuberculosis.
"This is a very encouraging development in the global efforts aimed at improving the lives of millions of people co-infected with HIV and mycobacterium tuberculosis, a common problem in sub-Saharan Africa" said one of the lead researchers Dr Kisali Pallangyo of MUHAS.
More than 14 million people co-infected
The study which started in 2001 was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (US). The vaccine, now known as Mycobacterium vaccae, is an inactivated whole cell vaccine and was given to study volunteers in a five dose series over a period of 12 months. Subjects were then followed every three months to detect cases of tuberculosis.
Dr Nils Billo, Executive Director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, also commented: “Today over 14 million people are co-infected with HIV-TB and a large proportion of this community will develop active tuberculosis if there are no effective interventions. HIV associated to TB is a potentially lethal disease and ways to prevent this from occurring are very much awaited. Therefore, an announcement of a potential vaccine to prevent TB in HIV-infected persons is most exciting and promising for HIV-infected patients.” – (Health24, October 2008)