Trials of experimental HIV vaccines with human participants are being conducted in various parts of the world, including South Africa.
These are part of efforts to develop new prevention tools to add to a ‘combination prevention’ toolbox for at-risk populations.
Such trials are ethically complex, in part because they involve actors from high-income settings working in collaboration with those from more resource-constrained settings, and because participants may have several vulnerabilities, such as low research literacy, impoverishment or marginalization, that may increase risk of trial-related harms or make consent decisions complex.
Such trials must adhere to national and international ethical guidelines for their design and implementation to ensure that participants’ welfare is promoted while they contribute to research designed to generate knowledge and products that may assist future beneficiaries.
The HIV AIDS Vaccines Ethics Group, based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, works with various role-players to contribute to the ethical conduct of such trials.