November 10, 2000

Graham speaks at PanAfrica AIDS conference

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Dr. James Sheller, left, and Dr. Jackson Roberts II will conduct the study. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Graham speaks at PanAfrica AIDS conference

AIDS is the greatest biomedical challenge ever faced by a race. Scientists and others are working frantically trying to prevent the spread of this globally-threatening disease.

Dr. Barney Graham, guest speaker at the PanAfrica Conference on AIDS held Nov. 2-4 in Nashville, told conference attendees that research is the key. “Immunity is achievable, but it will take a lot more research,” he said.

Graham, professor of Medicine, is leading the effort at Vanderbilt to develop an AIDS vaccine.

Ronald E. Dellums, chairman of President Clinton’s Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS and president of Healthcare International Management Company, welcomed the participants of the conference and issued a challenge for everyone to work together to combat the AIDS epidemic that is affecting Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We are at war with a virus – a virus that is sophisticated enough to hide, adapt and inflict great suffering,” Dellums said. “We are also at war with ignorance and denial.”

Dellums highlighted several statistics to emphasize the importance of joining the war against HIV/AIDS in the African region:

•HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in the Sub-Saharan African region.

•Africans are dying at the rate of nearly 7,000 per day. In the next 12 months, over two million will die from HIV/AIDS. In the first 10 years of this decade, 23 million will die.

•At the regional level, nearly 14 million Africans have already died and another 23 million are now living with HIV/AIDS. That is two-thirds of all cases on the planet.

•At the national level, the 21 countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world are in Africa. In Botswana and Zimbabwe, one in four adults is infected. At the individual level, a child born in Zambia or Zimbabwe today is more likely than not to die of AIDS.

Dellums referred to the African region at the epicenter of the epidemic, but cautioned that other parts of the world could soon become the focal point of the disease.

“Africa is now the epicenter,” Dellums said. “The next, in my opinion, will be India. The number of HIV/AIDS cases is also rising in Russia and other eastern European countries.

“Make no mistake about it,” Dellums added. “This is a global epidemic.”

Graham, principal investigator for the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit (HVTU) at Vanderbilt University, discussed his work on the development of an AIDS vaccine.

He is the study chair for a Phase II HIV vaccine protocol that will be conducted at 11 research centers in the United States. The results of this Phase II study will determine if the vaccine products that have been studied in several previous protocols will continue into Phase III efficacy trials.

The HVTU is part of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, a network of research centers that include sites in the United States as well as international sites in Brazil, Trinidad, Haiti, and South Africa. Data from corresponding studies conducted in the international sites will be compared with the data from Graham’s study to determine the course of HIV vaccine research.

Graham encouraged the group to continue its battle against the disease. He believes the 21st century will be driven by life sciences, instead of the physical sciences and space exploration of the 20th century, and called for a multi-sector partnership to ensure global health.

“Research provides the foundation of what needs to happen,” Graham said.