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Researchers launch two studies in Africa on new HIV vaccine

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Researchers announced the launch of two big studies in Africa on Thursday to test a new HIV vaccine and a long-acting inject-able drug, fueling hopes for better ways to protect against the virus that causes AIDS.

The start of the three-year vaccine trial involving 2,600 women in southern Africa means that for the first time in more than a decade there are now two big HIV vaccine clinical trials taking place at the same time.

The new study is testing a two-vaccine combination developed by Johnson and Johnson (J&J) with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first vaccine, also backed by NIH, began a trial last November.

At the same time, GlaxoSmithKline’s majority-owned ViiV Healthcare unit is starting another study enrolling 3,200 women in sub-Saharan Africa to evaluate the benefit of giving injections every two months of its experimental drug cabotegravir.

The ViiV initiative, which is expected to run until May 2022, also has funding from the NIH and the Gates Foundation.

Women are a major focus in the fight against the sexually transmitted disease since in Africa they account for more than half of all new HIV infections.

ViiV is also running another large study with its long-acting injection in HIV-uninfected men and transgender women who have sex with men.

That study started in December 2016.

Although modern HIV drugs have turned the disease from a death sentence into a chronic condition and preventative drug treatment can help, a vaccine is still seen as critical in rolling back the pandemic.

The latest vaccine experiments aim to build on the modest success of a trial in Thailand in 2009, when an earlier vaccine showed a 31 per cent reduction in infections.

“We’re making progress,” said J&J Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels, who believes it should be possible to achieve effectiveness above 50 per cent.

“That is the goal. Hopefully, we get much higher,” he said.

The new vaccines require one dose to prime the immune system and a second shot to boost the body’s response.

Significantly, J&J’s latest vaccine uses so-called mosaic technology to combine immune-stimulating proteins from different HIV strains, representing different types of virus from around the world, which should produce a “global” vaccine.

One reason why making an HIV vaccine has proved so difficult in the past is the variability of the virus.

Initial clinical results reported at an AIDS conference in Paris in July showed the mosaic vaccine was safe and elicited a good immune response in healthy volunteers.

Some 37 million individuals around the world currently have HIV and around 1.8 million became newly infected in 2016.

Health & Lifestyle

Dozens get vaccine after Ebola outbreak in Uganda

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Report says, Ugandan health officials have reacted with the vaccination campaign for people who may have been exposed to Ebola.

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The outbreak, one of the worst in history, started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year and spread to Uganda earlier this month.


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24 Hours Across Africa

India doctors embark on strike aimed better security

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Source: Reuters

Thousands of doctors across India went on strike on Friday to demand better security at hospitals days after junior doctors in the city of Kolkata were attacked, leaving services in many government-run health facilities paralyzed.

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The state of West Bengal, of which Kolkata is capital, has been the worst hit by the strike with at least 13 big government hospitals affected.

The protests were sparked by an attack at the NRS Medical College in Kolkata on June 10 that left three junior doctors seriously injured after a dispute with a family whose relative had died.

Doctors demanding better security began a strike but their action was confined to the state until West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condemned them on Thursday, saying police did not strike when one of their colleagues was killed.

Banerjee’s remarks, which included a warning that junior doctors would be evicted from their college hostels if they did not go back to work, triggered a nationwide reaction.

The Indian Medical Association said the “barbaric” attack at the NRS reflected a national problem, and called for a countrywide protest. It also demanded legislation to safeguard doctors.

Nearly 30,000 doctors were on a one-day strike on Friday, most in West Bengal, New Delhi and the western state of Maharashtra, according to figures proved by medical associations.

The federal health minister, Harsh Vardhan, tried to calm the furor, promising better security at hospitals and calling on Banerjee to withdraw her ultimatum.

“I urge doctors to end their strike in the larger interest of society. I will take all possible measures to ensure a safe environment for them at hospitals across the country,” Vardhan said on Twitter.

India spent an estimated 1.4% of its gross domestic product on healthcare in 2017/18, among the lowest proportions in the world. Many millions of Indians depend on the cheap but inadequate public health system.

Saradamani Ray, whose 77-year old father is a patient at the NRS Medical College, said she would have to move him because of the strike.

“I will have to take my father somewhere else for his dialysis, maybe a private hospital,” she told Reuters.

“It will cause a lot of financial strain, but there’s nothing I can do. I will have to pay.”


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