International Symposium on Accelerating India’s Response to Research for a Preventive HIV Vaccine

14 08 2012

The former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Shri Vayalar Ravi, the Chairman of Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV AIDS, Shri Oscar Fernandes and the Minister of State for Planning, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr. Ashwani Kumar at the International Symposium on “Accelerating India’s Response to Research for a Preventive HIV Vaccine”, organised by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology along with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV & AIDS, in New Delhi on August 13, 2012.

An International Science Symposium on Accelerating India’s Response to Research for a Preventive HIV Vaccine is being hosted by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology with the partnership of Forum of Parliamentarians for HIV/AIDS, Department of AIDS Control Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Health Research Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute, Research Centre for Biotechnology and International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. In the last decade, India has steadily emerged in the area of science, technology and innovation and made a successful transition from imitator to innovator. In its Decade of Innovation: 2010-20, India is also attracting global R&D activities in upstream research even as scientific research and international collaboration becomes an integral part of the economic and innovation policy cycle in the country’s globalization strategy. A dynamic regulatory and policy environment is helping expand capacity as new centers of excellence provide platforms for the development of vaccines for other critical diseases. India is now beginning to extend the gains achieved from its global primacy in the area of vaccine manufacturing to its innovative work on other crucial aspects of vaccine research and development and beginning to indigenously research and develop several novel vaccines that have either been commercialised or are nearing commercialisation. In the area of HIV Vaccine research, in particular, India’s rich pool of skilled scientists, medical professionals and a thriving pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry are allowing the nation to play a much larger role in global HIV Vaccine research and development. The Government of India has taken several initiatives—including key collaborative programs—to take India to the forefront of HIV Vaccine research in the field of biomedical tools such as Microbicides, ARTs and Vaccines. The Government of India (GOI) recognizes that an effective vaccine against AIDS must be a part of an integrated program for prevention, care, support and treatment. Given the country’s growing disease burden, HIV Vaccine research is a priority. The Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) has been one of the key enablers in this effort and has taken several initiatives to link scientists, students, teachers, industry and the public at large, to find creative solutions to fill funding shortfalls, to provide expert scientific knowledge to facilitate breakthroughs, and to partner with the international scientific community. While much of India’s measurable growth in health and biotech research in the recent past has taken place in numerous and scattered small institutions across the nation, the Government is today bringing together numerous autonomous and small centers into research in clusters of excellence.
HIV infections have declined by 56% during the last decade from 2.7 lakh in 2000 to 1.2 lakh in 2009 in our country. This was stated by Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health and Family Welfare at the International HIV Vaccine Symposium in New Delhi today.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony, Shri Azad said that HIV was detected in India over 25 years ago. Valuable knowledge and experience has been accumulated as a result of extensive interventions for control of the epidemic and it seems to be stabilizing now. India is among the few countries which have made significant reductions in HIV infections.

The national response to HIV/AIDS in India is implemented through the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) and “Prevention and Care” as well as “Support & Treatment” form the two key pillars of all HIV/AIDS control efforts in India. This strategy has yielded encouraging outcomes over the last decade. New evidence from the latest round of HIV Sentinel Surveillance shows further decline in the HIV Prevalence among general population as well as high risk groups. This has been possible due to political support at the highest levels to the various interventions under National AIDS Control Programme, including from Parliamentarians and elected leaders at the State and Local Levels and cooperation received from NGOs, civil society and the Media.

One of the successful interventions of the national AIDS control programme has been the Targeted Interventions (TIs), whose main objective is to improve health seeking behavior of high risk groups and reducing their vulnerability and risk to acquire Sexually Transmitted and HIV infections. There are 1,821 Targeted Interventions providing prevention services covering 81% Female Sex Workers, 80% Injecting Drug Users, 64% Men having sex with Men, 40% Migrants and 57% Truckers.

Shri Azad said that the trend of annual AIDS- related deaths is showing a steady decline since the roll out of free ART programme in India in 2004. Besides the domestic programme, India has been providing around 80% of global ARV drug demand. Vaccines have been frequently cited as one of the most equitable low-cost, high-impact public health measures.

Historically, vaccines have impacted significantly the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles, and yellow fever. The eradication of smallpox was an outstanding display of concerted global action in a war against microbial invaders. The progress in expanding polio and measles vaccination efforts and their elimination from many regions further demonstrated that vaccines are among the most powerful public health tools.

Shri Azad said that India is committed to new forms of partnership with low-income countries through innovative support mechanisms and South–South cooperation. He hoped that this joint venture will collectively shape the future of India’s inputs into the global HIV vaccine development attempts.

Symposium Objectives
The main objectives of the Symposium include:
·                Sustain the momentum India has achieved so far in its emergence as a Center of Excellence in HIV Research
·                Complement its global leadership in vaccines as a whole by organising a scientific deliberation to enable a better understanding of the complexities of working in the field and recent advances and also help identify the future programmatic content and conduct in India in the field of HIV vaccine research and development.
·                Provide a common platform to the participants from varied fields of basic and translational research from both academia and industry to deliberate on recent advances and identify approaches for end point research through collaborations and innovative concepts for vaccine development for HIV/AIDS.
·                Deliberate the need for an environment that promotes sustained, well funded, innovative research to capitalize on new scientific insights.
Symposium Attendees (Approximately 300 in Nos)
·                The meeting intends to be a unique blend of executive and legislative leadership with policymakers and  key opinion leaders from
o   Ministry of Science and Technology and its various Departments like Department of Biotechnology, DST and CSIR
o   Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and its key relevant Departments like the Department of Health Research and The Department of AIDS Control
o   Members of the Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV/AIDS
o   Representatives from:
§  International Governments
§  Multilateral agencies like UNAIDS, USAID, WHO etc
§  Key civil society organizations working in India in the area of HIV/ AIDS
§  Key scientists from Public and Private Sector Institutions from India working in the area of Vaccine Research and HIV/AIDS
o    12 key global scientific experts.
Expected Outcomes
·                Encourage deliberations and work towards articulating a road map amongst policy makers, scientists, researchers, multilateral organizations and community experts on the multifaceted approach to HIV vaccine development, and prioritize an Indian Roadmap for research in Prevention Tools of HIV especially a preventive HIV vaccine
·                Highlight the continuous efforts taken by India in HIV Vaccine research and associated technologies, which has facilitated its emergence as a leader in this field
·                Serve as a platform to engage Executive leadership and Legislature at the meeting towards prevention efforts needed in India for this disease. It shall also empower the community through consensus building with knowledge and a clear strategic mandate on current and future R&D efforts needed in discovery, technology development, product development and clinical development, which are relevant for India.
·                Facilitate National and international co-operation and collaborations to harness modern scientific and technological advances for an HIV vaccine

·                Facilitate future HIV vaccine design efforts globally and accelerate development of platform technologies, which can be translated to other infectious disease areas of public health importance in India through discussions among scientists and developers from both public and private sectors in India and globally, policymakers, key opinion leaders.

Minister of State for Planning , Science & Technology and earth Sciences Mr. Ashwani Kumar in his addresse said,” Althoughthe right to health is a universal aspiration, the key barrier to ensuring the fulfillment of this aspiration is the inadequate development of technologies to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. The challenges at the same time are enormous.For Instance,
·  Even if the number of new HIV infections continues to decline at current rates, there will still be more than 22 million new infections by 2015.
·  Fewer than one in five people at greatest risk of infection have access to effective prevention programs, such as education, condom distribution, prevention of mother to child HIV transmission, and HIV testing.
We believe that the new HIV infections could be significantly reduced if effective prevention programs are expanded and reach those at greatest risk of HIV infection.
·         The global momentum behind the call to find a cure for AIDS epidemic has reinforced the case for the use of a combination of prevention strategies. The past ten years of HIV prevention activities are beginning to show results. Despite the enormity of the challenge we still face , the number of new cases of HIV / AIDS annually have shown a substantial decline from about 2,70,000 cases earlier to about 120000 cases. Research efforts and technological solutions need to be significantly accelerated, particularly with a view to extend our outreach to those who have still no access to the treatment.
·         If scaled with resources and a sense of urgency, a preventive strategy, supported by other key interventions, can save lives, prevent new infections and lower the cost to fund the global fight against AIDS. Significant recent research breakthroughs in the area of HIV-prevention, particularly in terms of ARV-based prevention methods such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and the provision of early treatment to prevent HIV transmission are important contributions of ongoing research.
·         We must find ways of developing vaccines that help us overcome the difficulties posed by nature. Insights and lessons from recent advances in the field of HIV Vaccine R&D, particularly the findings of the RV-144 and the discovery of the broadly neutralizing antibodies give us hope and a sense of optimism.
·         Given the complexity of the task, the best minds must work together in furtherance of the objective of collaborative science .India remains committed to working towards the development of new technologies and we will provide necessary support to scientists and clinicians for this purpose.
·         We are delighted to learn that some of the leaders in research are participating in the science symposium being organized as a part of this meeting. I am sure that this meeting will instill great hope in the people of India and worldwide who are looking toward science for evidence-based prevention interventions for HIV, such as a Vaccine.
·         It is noteworthy that all research agencies be it in the Ministry of Science & Technology and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare are working together and have established close and effective collaborative efforts for accelerating our research work and that this national effort is closely networked with leading AIDS research institutes in the world.
·         The Union Ministry of Science and Technology, is encouraging our best scientists and technologists to engage in finding solutions to major public health challenges such as AIDS, TB, and Malaria etc. We have also floated many novel mechanisms by which academia, industry and public health experts can work together to develop effective preventive and therapeutic technologies. We are establishing a large number of centers of excellence where science, medicine and engineering can be linked to design novel solutions and technologies.
·         A fine example is the HIV Vaccine Design Programme, which has been established by our Department of Biotechnology, in a collaborative partnership between the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The research work will aim to understand the biological processes connected to the HIV infection to design a novel vaccine. The focus will be on the subtype-C of HIV found in India predominantly.
·      Let me take the opportunity to once again express our immense pleasure in hosting this conference. May I congratulate the local organizing committee, distinguished guests, and representatives from various backgrounds who are participating in the deliberations . I wish the conference well as it progresses over these two days. I am sure that novel presentations and debates will indicate new ways of enhancing the work in the field of HIV research. I am delighted that professionals, political leaders, scientists and many other stakeholders are engaging with each other through conferences like these.”
                              Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Shri Oscar Fernandes, Chairman of Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV AIDS also addressed the Symposium.

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