Big-hearted Kenyans a boost in search for HIV vaccine

By Gatonye Gathura

Most Kenyans volunteering for HIV vaccine trials are driven by generosity and selflessness, and not money, a team of Aids experts has revealed.

“I want to be proud later in life for participating in getting a HIV vaccine if it is successful,” says a 21-year-old, male volunteer from Kangemi in Nairobi.

Recently the World Giving Index 2017, ranked Kenya at position three out of 139 countries. Now Aids experts say the same traits are driving Kenyans to volunteer for HIV vaccine trials despite possible risks.

The experts at the KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) of the University of Nairobi have over the years conducted eight HIV vaccine trials some still going on. KAVI stands for Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative.

In a study published on Thursday (7th September) the team had investigated what motivates Kenyans to volunteer for HIV vaccine trials despite their being associated with some fears.

The study was conducted at KAVI-ICR sites at the Kenyatta National Hospital and in Kangemi, Nairobi, involved 281 volunteers participating in four HIV vaccine trials.

All the volunteers were healthy adults aged 18 to 50 and apart from being reimbursed for any costs incurred such as bus fare they were not offered any other payment.

Men outnumbered women by almost three to one with more than half of the volunteers with secondary education and a smaller number college educated.

“This demonstrates low participation among people with higher levels of education,” says the study.  Most of volunteers were young people aged 18-20.

The majority of volunteers, 65 per cent, reported to have been motivated by a sense of altruism. Many said they were proud to be part of a solution that would help a sick relative, the community or the world.

A married 22 year old woman said: “ªI lost my sister and brother because of HIV and I don’t want to lose anyone else close to me to that horrible disease.”

In this altruistic group a whole 42 per cent said their interest is to advance the cause of research and new knowledge in the world.

There were however others in it for personal benefits, including free medical tests and care and financial gains. In this group majority were younger participants.

The younger people joining is for monetary reasons, the study says was likely because at the age they are not yet financially established and may be looking for ways to earn money.

“I am not working at the moment and I am a single mother of two children so I wouldn’t mind the money that we are going to receive,” said a female respondent. However these were in the minority of about seven per cent.

On the other hand older volunteers were most likely to have volunteered out of a need to advance research or for the bigger societal good.

When the researchers compared their findings with others elsewhere they report show some level of amazement.

“A systematic review of 8 out of 12 studies globally reported that financial reward was the principal reason for participation in HIV clinical trials.”

In some studies in India and Brazil, it was observed that volunteers were of the opinion that monetary compensation was their entitlement which they would not forego.

Kenyans participation in HIV vaccine goes back to 1999 in a failed joint Kenyan-Canadian-British trial involving HIV ‘resistant’ prostitutes in Nairobi’s Majengo red-light district.

Some of the ongoing trials in Kenya include the development of a two-month injectable vaccine for HIV prevention.

If successful the jab will offer an alternative to the current daily HIV prevention pill, Truvada, which is dogged by serious adherence problems.

The study involves 1,500 HIV negative women in Kisumu, Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The trials sponsored by the US are expected to take two years will final results anticipated in 2022.

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