Commercial Sex Workers in Dominican Republic Participate in HIV Vaccine Trials
The pharmaceutical company Merck is conducting Phase II clinical trials of its experimental HIV vaccine among 175 commercial sex workers in the Dominican Republic, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. According to the AP/Newsday, the sex workers will receive three injections over seven months and then will be followed for four years. The trial is providing the women with meals and transportation to clinics in Santo Domingo that are providing the vaccine and follow-up care, as well as $30 for each day the women are unable to work. In addition, the clinic provides health training and occasional gifts, such as cosmetics, to encourage the sex workers to continue participating in the trial, AP/Newsday reports. The vaccine is made of a combination of deactivated cold viruses and synthetic HIV genes that aims to train the body to recognize HIV cells and destroy them. It is impossible to become HIV-positive from the vaccine, the AP/Newsday reports. An additional 3,000 people are participating in the trial in seven countries -- Australia, Brazil, Canada, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru and the U.S. -- that have the same HIV strain as the strain found in the Dominican Republic, according to Merck spokesperson Janet Skidmore. The same strain has been found in Europe, which could make the vaccine "lucrative" worldwide if proven effective in trials, according to the AP/Newsday. Merck recently launched a trial in South Africa to determine if the vaccine is effective against African strains of HIV. Jorge Flores, chief of vaccine research for NIAID's Division of AIDS, said the vaccine trial is "an extremely important step but not the only one," adding that education and research into other strategies, such as microbicides, also are important. Ellen Koenig, who heads a Santo Domingo clinic testing the vaccine, said that an 80% to 90% reduction in HIV incidence among the sex workers is "going to be acceptable for the time being." About 70,000 of the Dominican Republic's nine million residents are HIV-positive, the AP/Newsday reports. About 3.6% of commercial sex workers in the country are HIV-positive, but some researchers say the percentage is as high as 12% (Katz, AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.