South Africa’s 10th SA Aids Conference was held virtually this week with medical experts and HIV activists hopeful that the speed at which the various Covid-19 vaccines were developed would spearhead the urgency of an Aids vaccine.
Held under the theme Ending Aids Amid Pandemics, the conference noted that the treatment for HIV had come a long way, but still no vaccine existed.
Wits professor of vaccinology and director of the South African Medical Research Council Shabir Madhi said the Covid-19 pandemic was proof that a vaccine for HIV can be done given that a total of eight vaccines were produced in less than a year for Covid-19. He also said that these vaccines were tested against HIV and that it was not a risk factor for contracting a more severe form of the virus provided that one’s viral load was not low.
Helen Rees, the medical researcher and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute of the University of Witwatersrand, said like the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Covid-19 virus was also believed to come about because of lifestyle choices and was said to be a zoonotic disease, meaning the infections jumped from non-human animals to humans. She said it was important to realise that should a vaccine be developed for HIV, protection, just like non-pharmaceutical measures put in place for Covid-19, would remain – such as wearing a condom during intercourse. However, experts agreed that many more lives could have been saved, particularly in Africa if there were enough Covid-19 vaccines.
Rees mentioned that it took South Africa 15 years to get enough antiretroviral drugs to help HIV patients live normal and prolonged lives.
“Before the global pandemic started, we knew the problems of our health system. Post-2020, a lot of countries have struggled,” said activist Mark Heywood.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, said when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, key resources used for HIV were rapidly redirected to control Covid-19.
Deputy Minister of Health Joseph Phaahla said that the pandemic had disrupted HIV and TB services, noting that the government was working on a way forward and had a vision for a HIV, STI and Tb-free country.