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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Keep up the research for an AIDS vaccine

Today is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, a little-known observance that raises the question, What HIV vaccine?

And that's just the point. There isn't one, which is why the National Institutes of Health continue to call for the development of an AIDS vaccine within the next decade.

It's not an unreasonable request, given the scope of the epidemic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.

Back in 1984, when it was discovered that HIV was the likely cause of AIDS, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler said, "We hope to have ... a vaccine ready for testing in approximately two years." The first tests took place in 1986.

Nine years later, when there was no marked progress, President Clinton challenged "America's pharmaceutical industry to make the successful development of an AIDS vaccine part of its basic mission."

Over the past two decades, drug and biotech companies have tested 50 different anti-HIV vaccines on humans, but most have failed. Some complain the pharmaceutical industry has not invested adequately in these studies, preferring to sink its resources into more profitable ventures, like Viagra and Allegra.

Meanwhile, more than 900,000 people in the United States and 40 million people around the world are living with HIV and AIDS.

Fortunately, prevention efforts, such as safe sex and new drug therapies, have slowed the spread of HIV and reduced AIDS deaths, mostly in the well-off industrial democracies. But that has not been the case in the Third World.

With a stronger commitment to preventing this deadly disease, we hope AIDS will one day become as outmoded as polio and smallpox. It's a lot to ask, but it's essential.