Public statement by Nelson Mandela on HIV vaccine

7 November 2003

HIV/AIDS is the greatest challenge facing our nation, which requires a committed, long-term response that co-ordinates comprehensive prevention, treatment, care and support at all levels. We also know that an HIV vaccine is our best hope to eradicate HIV.

Government showed its commitment to this in 1999 by establishing and funding the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) as a national public-private partnership with Eskom. Government, Eskom and other supporters of the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative need to be congratulated on their ongoing support of this national asset. The South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative plays an immensely important role in co-ordinating HIV vaccine research, development and testing in our country.

Vaccination has led to the global control of other viral diseases like smallpox and polio. South Africa is facing the world's greatest challenge in terms of controlling this epidemic. It is most encouraging to see the involvement and commitment of our scientific, clinical and other expertise in the search for a locally relevant HIV vaccine that will protect South Africans against the strains of HIV infecting our people.

Although HIV is a formidable opponent, I am informed that experimental data indicates that a vaccine may indeed be possible within the foreseeable future. This would be the greatest achievement in stopping this virus and the devastation it is causing our society and people.

I have met with representatives of the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative and fully endorse the impressive work being undertaken by the initiative to reach this goal. SAAVI uniquely combines cutting-edge biotechnology with a commitment to community involvement and the highest possible ethical standards in clinical research.

The South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative is developing novel HIV test vaccines both locally and in collaboration with international agencies. The initiative is to be congratulated on its progress thus far both in the development of these vaccines and in developing the required capacity to test them in South Africa along side other international groups.

Issued on behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Source: Department of Health (