AFRICA – Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) has said its experimental vaccine failed to provide enough protection against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa to young women who are at high risk of being infected.

The mid-stage trial failure highlights the challenges of vaccine development, especially for HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, which has no approved vaccines.

“HIV is a unique and complex virus that has long posed unprecedented challenges for vaccine development because of its ability to attack, hijack and evade the human immune system,” Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

The study testing the vaccine included the participation of 2,600 women across five Southern African countries, where women and girls accounted for over 60% of all new HIV infections last year.

The trial of the vaccine, which is based on the adenovirus design which J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine also uses, was supported by the U.S. the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study will not continue, based on the data, J&J said. Participants in the study will be informed about the results and told whether they received a placebo or the vaccine.

J&J said it is studying the safety and efficacy of a different composition of the vaccine regimen among men who have sex with men and transgender persons.

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. In 2019 an estimated 38 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children), with a global HIV prevalence of 0.7% among adults. Around 19% of these people (7.1 million) do not know that they have the virus.

Since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 75.7 million people have become infected with HIV and 32.7 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

The vast majority of people living with HIV are located in low- and middle- income countries. Of the 4,500 people who contract HIV every day in the world, 59% live in sub-Saharan Africa.

East and Southern Africa remains the region most affected by HIV in the world, with 20.7 million people living with HIV and 730,000 new HIV infections in 2019, according to UNAIDS.

While there has been progress towards UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets for prevention and treatment, year-on-year reductions this appears to be stalling, while the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the HIV response are not yet known.

However, as the pandemic progresses there appears to be hope for all other endemic diseases as the shift moves from being primarily on Covid-19.

Addressing the new variant that was first discovered in South Africa, the World Health Organisation has said the variant does not appear to be spreading, adding it was monitoring the variant as the virus evolves.

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