Dominican Prostitutes, Facing AIDS Crisis, Test Experimental Vaccine...
The Dominican Republic is among eight countries where Merck & Co. is testing an experimental HIV vaccine composed of deactivated cold viruses and synthetically produced HIV genes. One hundred seventy-five Dominican prostitutes are taking part in the Phase II trial, which is expected to last four years. Other test sites include Haiti, Brazil, Jamaica, Australia, Canada, Peru, and the United States.
The Caribbean region has an AIDS rate second only to that of sub-Saharan Africa. UN figures show nearly three-quarters of those with HIV/AIDS in the region live on Hispaniola, the island the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti. Around 3.6 percent of Dominican prostitutes are infected, although researchers say rates are as high as 12 percent in certain areas.
The prostitutes, who were recruited from brothels across the country, will travel to Santo Domingo during the trial's first seven months to receive three injections. They must return for regular follow-ups during the study's four-year period. The study pays for the women's meals and transportation, and it provides them with $30 for a lost day's wages. In addition to health training, an occasional gift bag of cosmetics is given to keep the women from losing interest.
The HIV strain found in the eight Merck vaccine trial sites is the same one common in Europe. A new trial in South Africa will determine whether the vaccine candidate is effective on African strains. The Merck trial is one of 17 being sponsored by the Seattle-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is supported by the US government.