#Article (Archive)

Vaccine Against AIDs Welcome, But Treatment Is Still A Priority - Says ActionAid

Sep 30, 2009, 8:07 AM

News of a successful HIV AIDs vaccine trial is welcome, but treating existing infections and fighting the underlying epidemic of violence against women remain more important priorities, warns ActionAid.

Early HIV vaccines with modest levels of efficacy should be used as complementary tools to promote changes in social norms entrenching gender inequality and violence against women, ActionAid believes.

"Underlying the persistent spread of HIV and AIDs is an epidemic of violence against women which no vaccine will stop," said Anne Jellema, ActionAid's International Policy Director.

"We need governments to take strong steps to guarantee the rights of women and empower them against chronic abuse and coercion by men," said Jellema.

The vaccine is only partially effective, but ActionAid warns that false news of a "silver bullet" against AIDS may lead men to resume risky and coercive sexual practices, unless governments expand prevention and education programmes.

"Vaccine breakthroughs, although hugely exciting, must not distract attention from the lives being lost every day to existing infections. Already in the wake of the global recession, our partners are reporting ARV stock-outs and caps on enrolling new patients in treatment programmes," added Jellema.

Two-thirds of patients in Africa, majority of whom are women and girls, still lack access to treatment and the human and economic cost of this shocking neglect is intolerably high," she said.

Medical researchers say a trial of a vaccine against the AIDS virus has shown that it does cut the risk of infection. The trial, involving sixteen-thousand volunteers in Thailand, was conducted by the Thai government and the United States military.

A combination of two earlier experimental vaccines was found to reduce by thirty-one percent the volunteers' risk of contracting HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.