May 18, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- With as many as 1,000 children around the world infected with HIV every day, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is commemorating the 12th annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on May 18 with a continued commitment to the search for a vaccine. To further this vital effort, the Foundation will award grants this summer totaling $1 million for studies to support the development of a pediatric HIV vaccine.
As a global leader in the fight against pediatric AIDS for the past 20 years, the Foundation has funded pediatric vaccine-related research with some 40 grants totaling more than $10 million. Most recently in 2008, the Foundation announced five pediatric HIV vaccine research awards totaling $1 million. These five awardees are already making significant headway toward their goals of understanding infant immune responses to HIV and deciphering the complexities of transmission of HIV through breast milk.
"A vaccine would be a game-changer in the battle against HIV/AIDS," said Pamela W. Barnes, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. "We have a proven ability to keep people living with HIV healthy, as well as to stop transmission from mother to child. A vaccine that could be given to infants and young children -- much like we did with smallpox and polio -- could set the stage for a lifetime immunity from HIV."
Efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) have virtually eliminated new cases of HIV in children in the developed world. But only one-third of HIV-positive pregnant women globally receive the medicines they need to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies. As we scale up the delivery of PMTCT services, it is also vital to continue the search for a vaccine to protect children from the virus from infancy to adulthood.
For example, despite the successes in preventing transmission during pregnancy and labor and delivery, there is still a risk of contracting HIV through breast milk, particularly in resource-poor settings. While recent studies using the antiretroviral drug nevirapine have shown significant promise in reducing breast-feeding transmission, a vaccine would represent a breakthrough in further protecting infants around the world from the virus.
"Given the significant health risks associated with not breast-feeding in the developing world, finding a vaccine that would allow infants born to HIV-positive women to breast-feed safely will address a major obstacle to creating a generation free of HIV," said Laura Guay, M.D., the Foundation's vice president of research.
Including children in innovative vaccine research is a critical component of HIV prevention. In order to develop a vaccine that will be safe for pediatric use, the Foundation will continue to focus resources and attention on the need to better understand how HIV uniquely affects infants and children.