The HIV vaccine is currently being trialled in a programme called “Imbokodo” (meaning “rock” in Zulu) from the saying “You strike a woman, you strike a rock” and is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The vaccine is being trialled by women between the ages of 18 and 35 years in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“When this programme came from Johnson & Johnson and they approached us to look at the vaccine, we did push for this vaccine to work in women,” says Professor Glenda Gray, chairperson of the Imbokodo study, CEO and president of the SA Medical Research Council. “We said, ‘If this vaccine doesn’t work in women, you’re wasting your time.’ A lot of the people who developed this vaccine are women, who sat in the laboratory.”
“We said, ‘If this vaccine doesn’t work in women, you’re wasting your time.'”
According to UNAIDS, women and girls account for nearly 60 percent of people living with HIV in eastern and southern Africa. Women carry the greatest burden, with over 4 million of them living with HIV.
The official announcement was made at the Global Citizen Festival at the FNB Stadium on Sunday night by advocate, actress, playwright and Women’s Health cover star Danai Gurira. “Their [J&J] concern for the epidemic in the southern part of the continent where I am from, where my soul lies, and where I have experienced this epidemic take hold and really shape the fabric of life as people knew it – as I knew it – growing up. And so seeing the work that Johnson & Johnson were doing on the ground was something that felt very right to me,” she said about her involvement with the project.