May 18, marks HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. It has been more than 30 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported and more than 35 million people are living with the disease worldwide.
For more than 25 years, the U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has been working to combat HIV. We aim to develop a globally-effective HIV vaccine
which, in combination with other proven prevention strategies, would enable us not only to protect our Warfighters from HIV, but would be critical in the control of the global pandemic.
MHRP is a critical partner in the whole of government approach to deal with the most devastating pandemic of our time. The U.S. Military has unique and established infrastructure and relationships to
conduct sustainable research in endemic settings. It also has a long, successful track record in effectively fighting infectious diseases such as influenza, malaria, hepatitis and dengue,
which are critical to protecting our troops who are deployed globally.
MHRP led the first and only HIV vaccine trial to date—the RV144 Thai Trial—that showed that a vaccine can protect against HIV. It is working to improve the efficacy of that vaccine regimen and
also accelerate the development of novel vaccine combinations. MHRP plays a unique and complementary role in HIV research, and is leveraged and engaged by NIH as part of a joint U.S. Government strategy
to prevent, treat and cure HIV.
The U.S. Military has a direct interest in HIV primarily because of Force Health Protection. Not only does HIV have an impact on deployment, but it also poses a risk to theater blood supply and impacts
long-term costs of care for Service members and beneficiaries. An effective vaccine is crucial to long-term control of HIV in the military and throughout the world.
Additionally, HIV poses national security concerns due to regional instabilities induced or exacerbated by HIV, and reducing its toll is part of the President’s National Security Strategy. Through its
research and participation in the U.S. Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), MHRP helps improve public health in Africa and has developed strong ties with
governments and militaries in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
While we have many prevention tools available to help curb the HIV epidemic, we will need a safe, globally-effective vaccine to end it. Developing a
vaccine is a long, iterative process, but we are confident that recent scientific advances will help us achieve this goal.
Nelson L. Michael, M.D., Ph.D.
Colonel, Medical Corps, U.S. Army
Director, U.S. Military HIV Research Program