On Wednesday, October 18, 2023, leaders from the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) and Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) announced that two Ugandan research institutions will benefit from a $45 million (Shs166 billion) investment by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the research and development of an HIV vaccine. This funding will support a consortium of institutions in eight African countries, which include South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.
Dr. Cissy Kityo, the JCRC executive director, expressed the consortium’s aim to develop a vaccine that prevents new HIV infections. She explained that while a vaccine preventing HIV/AIDS infection entirely would be 100% efficacious, they are also considering vaccines with efficacy rates of 60% to 80%. The project is set to run for five years, during which the participating countries will collaborate and harness expertise across the African continent in pursuit of this goal.
Dr. Kityo expressed optimism that a vaccine may be developed before the five-year project timeline, citing the presence of talented scientists who previously lacked adequate funding. She noted the importance of learning from past failures and embracing new and improved methods of vaccine development.
The first HIV vaccine clinical trial took place in the 1990s but did not succeed, as revealed by information from the JCRC and a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States. Dr. Kityo emphasized the importance of Uganda’s involvement in global HIV vaccine work, despite the vaccine’s development occurring in France during the trial sponsored by the NIH and World Health Organization.
Dr. Charles Olaro, the director for curative services at the Health ministry, commended the institutions for securing the funding and expressed the government’s optimism. He noted that the previous failure provided valuable lessons, and the Ministry of Health is enthusiastic about collaborating with USAID, which has a history of over 60 years in the field. Dr. Olaro highlighted the potential impact of a successful vaccine in reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS, with the goal of preventing both new infections and transmission.
In 2016, Uganda reported over 52,000 new HIV cases, averaging more than 1,000 cases per week. Dr. Olaro stressed the importance of finding effective solutions to reduce these numbers and ultimately work towards ending HIV by 2030.