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HIV Research Must Include African American Participants




For over a decade, Blacks have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Although they account for over half of new infections each year in the United States, African Americans account for a low percentage of experimental vaccine participants.



According to Dr. Susan Buchbinder, director of Bridge HIV research department at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), the reluctance for people of color and especially African Americans to participate in medical trials is warranted.

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD), an annual observance that recognizes the thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals, and scientists who are working to find a safe and effective HIV vaccine. The day is also about educating communities on the importance of preventive HIV vaccine research. Because, in past situations, there has been misuse and mistreatment of vulnerable populations, including the infamous Tuskegee experiments.

The Tuskegee experiments involved a 40-year clinical study between 1932 and 1972, in which scientists at the Tuskegee Institute and the Public Health Service allowed nearly 400 poor, Black sharecroppers with syphilis to go untreated, even after Penicillin was validated as an effective treatment in 1940.

For some Blacks, distrust of government may be the main barrier, but for others, family responsibilities, health risks and social concerns prevent participation. Fortunately there are better systems of protection built into today’s government sponsored research. Furthermore, no live, dead, or weakened HIV is used in the making of the vaccine. So there is no way a person can become HIV positive by participation.

HIV vaccines teach the body’s immune system to recognize and fight off HIV. The hope is that the vaccines will mimic HIV just enough to train the body on how to fight it off if a person is ever exposed to the disease. A recent study HVTN 505 was halted on April 25. The study began in 2009, testing an investigational prime-boost vaccine regimen developed by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through the Vaccine Research Center.

The study was halted after a vaccine regimen could not prevent HIV infection or reduce viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) among vaccine recipients who were infected with HIV. She said it was a failed 2009 study in Thailand that pointed to mechanisms of HIV that were unknown before, and the findings gave them hope, she said.

African Americans must participate in clinical studies, if biological and culturally appropriate conclusions are to be reached. Blacks who volunteer for trials must realize they may be moving science forward to help future African generations. Right now, there’s no vaccine that can prevent someone HIV negative from being infected, but imagine if there were.

An update to discuss the results of HVTN 505 and the future of HIV vaccine research will be held on Wednesday, May 15, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Private Dining Room of the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar& Grill in Oakland at Lake Merritt. The event is free: Interested community members should register online at For more information, contact Nichole Little at

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