The Executive Director, Journalist Against AIDS (JAAIDS), Mrs Olayide Akanni, has urged the Federal Government to invest in research create policies that would enable HIV vaccine development in the country.
Akanni made the call at a media roundtable in commemoration of the HIV Vaccine Awareness Day marked annually on May 18.
The event was organised by the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society in collaboration with JAAIDS.
“Over time, the HIV/AIDS virus has been with us over 30 years and till now, there has not been a vaccine that is being developed.
“The Awareness Day is just to promote awareness and to put the issues of HIV vaccine on the front burner. A lot goes into investing in vaccine.
“This is an opportunity to give a clarion call to challenge our government to begin to put in place the structures, enabling environment that will encourage vaccine research and development.
“We need to train our personnel, expose our scientists, researchers to best practices across the world,’’ Akanni said.
“We cannot afford as a country to be at the bakground.
“That is the reason for the day, to create awareness and hold government accountable and ask the right questions on where we are in the whole vaccine initiative.’’
The director said there was need for the country to also step up on prevention method of HIV and make treatment available.
She said, “If we make treatment available, we get to a point where those who are receiving treatment will have an undetectable viral load.
“It means that they cannot transmit the virus to other people.
“For those who are not affected, if we put in place mechanisms to ensure that they prevent HIV infections, it means the risk of getting it is reduced.
“We need to look forward and anticipate development.’’
Contributing, the Director, Clinical Services, Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria, Dr Ernest Ekong, said there was need to sensitise stakeholders on the need to prepare for vaccine, who to get involved and various stages to start from.
Ekong, however, said that people needed to know that vaccines could not be rushed into and ignore the basic preventive messages of HIV.
“We have the resources to develop a vaccine, but we have more competitive needs than a vaccine.
“Drugs are much more needed, prevention messages are very important.
“Have we been able to sensitise people about prevention and treatment,’’ he said.
In his remarks, PEPFAR Country Team, Dr Murphy Akpu, said vaccines remained the ultimate vision of HIV response.
PEPFAR is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to help save the lives of people suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world.
Akpu, however, said that Nigeria was still very far from developing a vaccine.
“There is need to invest in vaccine development and in so many ways apart from funding it.
“But we must keep ourselves enlightened and prepare our systems.
“Even if the vaccine is available, we still need a lot of resources to make sure it gets to the people who need it,’’ he said.
He urged people to know their HIV status, access treatment available and live quality lives rather than hiding because of stigma.
“There is more to do in enlightening people about HIV in order to reduce the stigma and allow for more people to get screened,’’ Akpu said. (NAN)