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Aids vaccine likely within 10 years, says expert Joe Humphreys
Irish Times 18/06/2005

By Joe Humphreys

A vaccine for Aids could be available within a decade if recent progress in medical research is sustained, Prof Robert Gallo, the doctor who first developed a test for HIV, told a conference in Dublin yesterday. The pioneering Baltimore based virologist, who is widely credited for first identifying the Aids virus in 1984, warned however, that the search for a vaccine should not stop governments worldwide from pursuing existing strategies against HIV.

Current vaccines, including those Prof Gallo had tested on animals, "leave a lot to be desired", he said. "At best, they might be partially effective for a while."

As a result, he said, governments should maintain a focus on education, good diagnostic blood testing and other preventive measures.

"Yes, there will be more vaccine candidates going forward. We are getting interesting results in monkeys right now… I wouldn't be working on it if I didn't think it was doable. And since I'm no spring chicken, I think it's doable in my lifetime. But don't get overly excited. Roughly three years from now, I would be able to give a very good estimate that, yeah, it's very likely we are going to have a breakthrough," he told The Irish Times.

Prof Gallo, who is director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, said there was "no magic formula" for tackling Aids in Africa, where the disease was estimated to kill 6,000 people each day. However, part of the solution was training local health service providers in HIV treatment and care.

He said administrative organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the UN Aids programme were "well meaning and do a good job when it comes to distributing something like a vaccine. But this is complex. It involves on-the-ground training.

"It also involves the long-term engagement of governments until this is gone. Governments can just get bored by it. You can't just give the drugs and walk away." Rejecting suggestions that government should concentrate on poverty-reduction rather than drug treatment, he added: "You can't just let these people get wiped out. You are talking about tens of millions of infected people. You can't just say: 'Let's worry about the economy and let them rot.'"

Prof Gallo was speaking at a conference at UCD, hosted by its Centre for Research in Infectious Diseases to mark the university's 150th anniversary. William G. Powderly, professor of medicine and therapeutics at the centre, said UCD was currently involved in a HIV treatment-training project in Uganda and was planning two projects, in Malawi and Mozambique. "Even if we do it on a small scale, we will be making a contribution, " he added.