Earlier this week, researchers in South Africa began inoculating about 2,700 HIV-negative, sexually active people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five with the latest vaccine against the virus. An equal number of volunteers will receive a placebo. Each group will receive five total injections during the year and will have their health monitored for another two years.
Gita Ramjee, director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit at the Medical Research Council in Durban, South Africa is hopeful. “Given that right now we have nothing, we’d be happy if this vaccine were even forty-five or fifty percent effective,” she said.
Other experts hope for a fifty to sixty percent success rate. At those rates, drugmakers Sanofi Pasteur and GSK might begin licensing negotiations with the South African government. In short, the eyes of the world will be on South Africa, everyone hoping for a breakthrough.
Our Dried Voices
In my novel Our Dried Voices, I offered the prediction of an HIV vaccine “after a decade of research based on the early 22nd-century work of a group of South African virologists.” Fortunately, real-world events may be 100 years ahead of schedule.
So why South Africa? For me, two reasons. With seven million people infected, South Africa is believed to have more HIV/AIDS victims than any other nation. Second, South Africa holds a special place in my heart, having spent ten months there in 2006 and 2008-2009. When I wrote Our Dried Voices, I believed South Africa was on the cusp of making a major impact on world affairs, and the fight against HIV seemed the most appropriate arena for that impact.