Mbeki to Visit Merck Labs, Promote Africa Development Plan On U.S. Trip
South African President Thabo Mbeki will visit Merck's research labs in West Point, Pa., next week to learn about Merck's progress on an HIV vaccine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Merck was "instrumental" in the development of some of the antiretroviral drugs to treat the disease, and is now conducting research on an AIDS vaccine (Harris, Wall Street Journal, 6/21). The company announced in April that a Merck AIDS vaccine candidate was unable to block HIV infection or rid the body of infection in trials with monkeys, but the vaccine did suppress the virus to levels "too low to be detected" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/2). Mbeki, who has publicly questioned the causal link between HIV and AIDS, is interested in talking about the vaccine with Merck researchers, South African embassy spokesperson Sheldon Moulton said. "One of the greatest needs in Africa is prevention of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, which are major obstacles to sustainable development," he added. South Africa is currently "embroiled in an internal debate" over whether to spend "huge sums" on drug treatment for HIV-positive South Africans or to "concentrate efforts" on disease prevention instead. Mbeki's U.S. trip is intended to promote a "development plan for Africa" called the Millennium Africa Recovery Plan. Mbeki also plans to meet with President Bush (Wall Street Journal, 6/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.