The interview takes place on the same day that Deputy Presi-
infections significantly. It’s a welcome development for the
dent Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to field questions in the
world that has been battling with reducing the spread of the
National Assembly. One of the questions the Deputy President
virus since the early 1990s. For South Africa to lead this ground-
will be asked pertains to the historic HIV vaccine trial that be-
breaking research is a boost for the country which has one of
gan in South Africa during the first week of November.
the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. The results of
Abdullah’s phone does not stop ringing. He and his team have to contribute to the answers the Deputy President gives
the trial are expected towards the end of 2021.
to Parliament. As he finally gets off the phone and sits down,
Working together to fight AIDS
Abdullah immediately explains the importance of the trial.
While research forms part of the initiative that Abdullah and
HIV vaccine trial
his team support, as head of SANAC, his responsibilities are wide-ranging. He has to make sure that there is coordination
“It’s nothing that has been tried anywhere else in the world,” he
in the fight against AIDS in South Africa and the prevention
says with visible excitement. The first participant in the large-
of the spread of HIV. Without bodies like SANAC, it would be
scale vaccine trial received a shot of the vaccine that very week.
difficult for the government to formulate policy and implement
The HIV vaccine clinical trial, known as the HVTN 702, involves
tangible interventions aimed at addressing the pandemic.
more than 5 000 HIV-negative men and women across South
“HIV is such a multi-faceted problem that requires multiple
Africa. The study is designed to determine whether the regi-
government departments, civil society, non-governmental
men is safe, tolerable and effective at preventing HIV infection
organisations and the private sector to work together. We need
among South African adults.
a body that brings together all those different players to devise
Should South Africa prove that the vaccine is at least 50
a common approach to the problem of HIV,” says Abdullah.
percent effective, it could lead to the first licensed preventive
SANAC is also crucial in long-term planning and through its
HIV vaccine in the world. If successful, it could set the country
five-year strategies, the organisation is able to provide crucial
apart in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.
information to government and other role players in the HIV
“Basically, there have been only two vaccine trials that we have conducted globally; the last one was in Thailand seven years ago. That one was partially effective as it showed a 39 percent reduction.
sector. These, in turn, assist in decision-making and policy direction for the country. “At the moment we are in the middle of finalising yet another five-year strategic framework for the whole country. That
“Our scientists took that vaccine and modified it, adding pro-
means we have to involve everybody and all the departments.
teins and changing other proteins and they created a new vac-
We have meetings with Ministers and Deputy Ministers who
cine which pulls a better response from the body,” he explains.
give us guidance as to what should be in this strategic plan.”
The vaccine has gone through all the mandatory safety tests
The plan Abdullah and his team are working on contains
to ensure that it does not lead to undesired consequences.
details of how South Africa will tackle HIV in the next five years.
Although the vaccine is likely to be highly effective, scien-
SANAC is also obliged to monitor the implementation of HIV
tists have cautioned that it is not yet the answer to the AIDS problem. “We need to be circumspect about all of this. The scientists are saying we should get to about 50 percent reduction through this vaccine. It’s not as if this will be a 100 percent
intervention programmes on an ongoing basis. This is crucial to measuring the impact such interventions are making and ensuring South Africa retains its spot as the model in the fight against HIV and AIDS on the continent.
effective vaccine so we must be cautious about the expecta-
Reflecting on progress
tions,” Abdullah says.
South Africa was lauded for its HIV policies at the International
But he notes that any vaccine that proves to be 50 percent
AIDS Conference held in Durban. Delegates were impressed
effective in preventing HIV would bring down the number of
by the commitment to reduce infections among women >>
Public Sector Manager • December 2016 / January 2017