The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced last week that they are starting a clinical trial for a HIV vaccine, based in London and two centres in Africa.

Laboratories in London – UK, Kigali – Rwanda and Nairobi – Kenya will recruit 64 healthy HIV-free adults for phase one of the trial that is expected to last for two years. Volunteers will receive two vaccines and not be at risk of catching HIV.

HIV affects 34 million people worldwide, of which there are 96,000-100,000 in the UK. HIV is found in bodily fluids and people are usually infected by: unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive, reusing injecting equipment that has been used by someone who is HIV positive or transmission from mother to baby.

HIV attacks the immune system in the affected individual, weakening the body’s ability to fight other infections and diseases. You can find out more about HIV on the NHS Choices Website. Over the last few decades there have been massive advances in treatment; that have focused around slowing down the damage HIV causes to the immune system.

IAVI have admitted that the clinical trials are in their early stages. Clinical trials usually take at least 10 years and usually cost billions of pounds. There are many on-going research projects focused on trying to create a HIV vaccine. So it’s likely that there wont be an effective HIV vaccination for at least a decade.

Jason Warriner, Clinical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, when asked about IVAI’s clinical trial said,

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“We welcome investment in the search for a vaccine against HIV. This research is in its very earliest stages. Clinical trials take several years to complete and, even if the vaccine passes this first stage of tests, more research will be needed over the course of many years.

“Although an HIV vaccine has so far remained stubbornly out of reach, we now understand how to prevent transmission better than ever before. A combination of widespread condom use, regular testing for HIV, and getting those with the virus onto the right treatment, could drastically reduce HIV within a generation.”

A HIV vaccine would protect people from catching HIV and would most likely be administered to those in high-risk groups including gay men. The ability to prevent people from catching HIV would be a significant step forward in the fight against HIV; as it would stem the number of people becoming infected.

For those that are already HIV positive, the vaccine will not be a cure. It is likely that they will have to continue with their treatment. However people who are HIV positive should take hope from the fact that there’s a number of on-going research projects looking into potential cures for HIV, and ways to reverse some of the damage HIV causes to the immune system.

While we wait for a HIV vaccine, health professionals continue to recommend that gay people use condoms when having sex and that they are regularly tested for HIV at least once a year.