NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 28 – The National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) has said the recent breakthrough of a new HIV/AIDS vaccine in Thailand may not mean much to Kenya in terms of reducing risk of infection.
NASCOP Head Dr Nicholas Muraguri attributed this to the different subtypes of HIV circulating in the region.
“However, the important implication to that outcome is that we are now closer than before to developing a vaccine, getting a technique or methodology of developing a vaccine that can be appropriate for our region,” Dr Muraguri told Capital News in an exclusive interview.
“And in Kenya we have a vaccine development programme that has been going on. That study in Thailand will definitely make us re-look at what we are doing and re- strategise if need be,” he added.
Dr Muraguri told Capital News that a vaccine would be the ultimate tool for HIV prevention in the world because vaccines had shown to be effective in many other infectious diseases.
“It is estimated that if we got any vaccine that is able to prevent 50 percent of infections and is taken up by 30 percent of the sexually active population, we are likely over a period of 10 years to prevent over 24 percent of infections that would ordinarily occur. This translates to averting 10 million new infections,” he said.
The experimental HIV/AIDS vaccine was tested on 16,000 HIV negative volunteers and is said to reduce the risk of infection by a third. According to AFP, the trials were carried out by the United States Army and Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health.
The studies have been conducted since October 2003 and the vaccine was tested on HIV negative volunteers aged between 18 and 30 years at average risk of infection in two Thai provinces near Bangkok.
Dr Muraguri said following release of the findings there had been concerns on their implications it would have in the response to HIV/AIDS pandemic that it may impact negatively.
“The vaccine may even take five or 10 years to be available to be used in the general population. I would like to emphasise that the fact that a vaccine is available does not make people change their behaviour or become reckless. It’s just like we have always had a treatment for syphillis and gonorrhea and this does not make people undertake risky sexual behaviour,” the NASCOP head said.
He assured the Kenyan population that if any HIV/AIDS vaccine that would be effective in Kenya became available locally or internationally it would be made accessible to all.
Meanwhile, two weeks after Kenya banned the ‘Hot’ brand of condoms from the market, the government has assured that the product was no longer available in the urban market.
Dr Muraguri has however cautioned the rural population to be on the lookout and not buy the brand.
“We want people to be more vigilant because although we issued an alert to everybody, some in the smaller towns may not have heard,” he told Capital News.
“But we have worked with the distributor to recall that product. At least in all major towns we no longer have it,” he added.
He said officials from the Kenya Bureau of Standards had also been going out to ensure the product had been completely mopped out.
Dr Muraguri said the government had stepped up measures to ensure that any brand of condom coming in the country met quality standards.
The hot brand of condom was banned from the Kenyan market after it was found to be 100 percent ineffective and leaked when in use.
“I don’t think there is a market for that product now. People are very concerned and worried and if you go to any street, people are aware that it has been withdrawn,” he said.
“Remember it has only 0.01 percent market share and is not a condom that can be available in the backstreet or the smaller income areas because it is expensive. Most of them were available in selected chemists and supermarkets,” he added.