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Italy funds UNIDO project aimed at helping South Africa locally produce HIV/Aids vaccine

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VIENNA, 25 January 2012 – Italy will fund a new project by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) that aims to help address the HIV/Aids challenge in South Africa.

The EUR 900,000 project, to be implemented together with the South African Government, and the Directorate General Development Cooperation of Italian Foreign Ministry will focus on coordinating the work of an International Scientific Advisory Committee.

The project has a innovative structure whereby UNIDO will provide a valuable service to a bilateral development project, managed by the Italian Institute of Health (ISS), and as a result will be able to access resources to help move towards an enhanced programme on strengthening the local production of essential medicines and other health commodities.

The Italian bilateral project supports the development of a network of clinical sites, as well as of a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-compliant line of production to manufacture vaccines in South Africa and also conduct a therapeutic clinical trial with an anti HIV vaccine candidate developed at ISS.

This work will require strong oversight and guidance from international experts, so the project includes provision for an International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) which UNIDO will coordinate.

The funding will also enable UNIDO to work with the South African Departments of Trade, Industry and Health, as they consider and implement plans for the local production of active pharmaceutical ingredients for anti-retroviral drugs. These ingredients are currently imported, a situation which represents a potential threat to the long term sustainability of HIV/Aids treatment programmes.

According to the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/Aids, South Africa has the largest HIV/Aids burden in the world with adult prevalence of 21.5 per cent. Addressing this catastrophe requires action on multiple fronts, including treatment of those infected and programmes to reduce the rate of further infections. Ultimately a vaccine to immunise people against the virus would provide a means to enable the pandemic to be thwarted, and in the event that a therapeutic vaccine to “cure” those infected could be developed, the scourge caused by the disease and the substantial financial burden represented by the cost of treatment could be reversed.

The work in South Africa will be coordinated with UNIDO’s ongoing global project, which. focuses on strengthening the local production of essential medicines in developing and least developed countries.

UNIDO has been working closely with stakeholders in Kenya and Ghana to develop and ultimately implement strategies for the pharmaceutical sectors, and has worked at the individual company level in Botswana, Cameroon and Ghana. It is also engaging with various policy making bodies at the global, regional and sub-regional level, and is a member of the Southern African Development Community’s pharmaceutical task force. Recently, UNIDO entered into a partnership with the African Union Commission to help accelerate the implementation of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa.

“Local production of medicines has a number of benefits from a health perspective. It enables tighter regulatory control by national authorities, and shortens supply chains for finished products. This can protect against stock outs. However, the locally produced drugs must be of appropriate quality and affordable for public procurement and out of pocket expenditure,” said UNIDO Industrial Development Officer, Juergen Reinhardt.

“UNIDO seeks to help developing countries improve quality standards whilst maintaining and, ideally, improving the competitiveness of the local players. We are looking to go beyond the purely technical aspects of production by developing an enabling business environment for competitive local production, the facilitation of investment and technology transfer, and long term development of human resources and know how. This will help improve access to medicines for people suffering from high profile pandemic diseases, and diseases for which less international funding and international regulatory oversight is present,” added Reinhardt.