World AIDS Vaccine Day, also known as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, was first observed on May 18, 1998 and continues till date. Although there is still no vaccine to stem the flow of HIV infection, this day was set aside around the globe to raise awareness for the need of AIDS vaccines, educate communities about how HIV can be prevented and how ordinary people can play a part in ending the global pandemic.
Acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, sharing of contaminated needles, blood transfusion or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. The virus spreads through certain body fluids attacking the body immune system specifically the CD4 cells also called T-cells. As the virus continues to multiply, the body loses its ability to fight infection making it susceptible to opportunistic infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis as well as certain cancers.
The management of HIV/AIDs involves the use of multiple antiretroviral drugs. Although these drugs have proven effective in the management of HIV patients, they still pose adverse side effects, can be expensive and some people may develop drug resistance to certain HIV drugs. HIV infection when left untreated damages the immune system severely. When the CD4 count of an infected individual fall below a certain level, such individual is said to have developed AIDS. Vaccines are biological substances that contain weakened or dead disease-causing organisms. Vaccines when administered, prime the immune system to recognize and attack a particular pathogen if it shows up in the body in the future.
The biggest impacts in the eradication or control of infectious diseases in the history of public health have been achieved through vaccination. Scientists all around the world have been working meticulously towards the development of a preventive vaccine for HIV. However, no effective vaccine has been found. Reasons been that HIV challenges the standard vaccine approach. Unlike other diseases such as measles and chickenpox, no one has a natural immunity to HIV.
Without a model for natural immunity, researchers do not have a way to identify an immune response that would be effective against HIV, and thus developing an HIV vaccine is much more difficult.
A second challenge in developing a vaccine is that HIV mutates frequently. These frequent changes in the virus make it a difficult moving target for a vaccine. Additionally, there are many subtypes of HIV, each of which is genetically distinct; it’s likely that additional subtypes will continue to emerge. This poses yet another challenge, as a vaccine that protects against one subtype may not provide protection against others.
While there are quite a number of efforts being put in place by different organizations across the globe to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDs, the most important of such efforts is early detections which can help in proper management of the disease. Thankfully, the facilities to make this possible are very much within reach. For instance, ISN product Nigeria, a leading supplier of medical diagnostic equipment in Nigeria, offers diagnostics solutions ranging from HIV screening, HIV confirmation to viral load monitoring.