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The Health Ministry wants additional volunteers for the third HIV vaccine trial, which will get underway this summer.
“We certainly need more participants now going into the new trial,” said Chief Investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials, Professor Peter Figueroa. “We would definitely welcome more persons coming forward.”
The Professor, who is also Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health, was speaking at an open day held yesterday (May 18) at the Comprehensive Health Centre on Slipe Pen Road in Kingston, to mark international HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.
He pointed out that the volunteers, who must be HIV negative, will have to undergo screening to determine if they are eligible for participation. The screening will comprise a physical examination, blood tests including an HIV test, and counselling about participation in research and safe sexual behaviours. Professor Figueroa noted that while many persons are skeptical about participating in a HIV vaccine test, the response to the first two trials, which began in August 2006 was good, with more than 100 volunteers screened and 35 enrolled and vaccinated.
“We were actually very pleased with the number of persons, who volunteered,” he said, noting that “unfortunately we could not enroll some people because they may have been anaemic or they may have had some other kind of medical condition and we then would have to exclude them because we have to put the safety of the participant first.”
Meanwhile, Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, National HIV Programme, Dr. Jacqueline Duncan, pointed out that the HIV disease has been described as one of the worst epidemics of the Century, claiming the lives of more than 25 million persons world-wide.
She noted that despite prevention programmes, in 2006, it was estimated that 4.3 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide, and 27,000 persons were newly infected in the Caribbean region.
“The statistics emphasize the urgent need to develop a safe and effective vaccine to halt this epidemic, as was the case with other diseases such as polio, small pox and measles,” she stated.
Persons interested in volunteering can visit the HIV Vaccine site at the Epidemiology Research and Training Unit, 55 Slipe Pen Road or telephone 922-4461.
Last August, Jamaica joined a global network of scientists in the search for an effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection, conducting the first HIV vaccine trial in the island.