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HIV vaccine group defends funding choices

Developing country capacity ‘essential’ for success, IAVI says

A global HIV vaccine organisation has hit back at accusations that its support for developing country research is an “ineffective” and “counterproductive” way of producing treatments.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative said last week that its support of research in regions hard hit by HIV, like Africa, is essential to the success of its projects.

IAVI was responding to criticism earlier this year from Diana Sonntag, a researcher at the medical sociology and health economics department of Germany’s University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.

In an article published in the Health Economics journal on 28 January, she argues that HIV vaccine R&D should be centralised in developed countries where well-resourced research teams will be better placed to produce successful results quickly.

“The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which is the world’s largest organisation focusing on the development of an effective and accessible HIV vaccine, recommends building up the capacity for vaccine research in developing countries,” she writes.

But “in contrast to IAVI’ s proposal” her research suggests that “targeting financial support or assistance in kind to public research institutions in developing countries is ineffective or even counterproductive”.

She also argues that high levels of corruption mean research funding in developing countries carries a higher risk of being misspent.


IAVI responds

The organisation has rejected Sonntag’s conclusions.

“On the contrary, the development of AIDS vaccines for countries who need these products most can only be achieved successfully through the engagement with these countries,” it commented in a statement to Research Africa last week.

The organisation said Sonntag’s paper does not capture the full breadth of AIDS vaccine R&D, some of which has to be research in the context where it will be used.

“For example, epidemiological research on HIV subtypes and risk factors driving the epidemic informs the design of AIDS vaccine candidates, as does the characterization of immune responses in populations most affected,” it said.

IAVI said that its successful completion of clinical evaluation of 13 AIDS vaccine candidates is thanks to its collaboration with research centres in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and India. It has run a total of 14 clinical trials in these countries.

The alliance added that locating HIV vaccine R&D in developing countries benefits the communities participating in the clinical trials. For example, they get access to voluntary counselling and testing, and to interventions that can prevent the spread of the virus.