AIDS and malaria are diseases of major public health concerns the country is still grappling with.
Malaria is a major cause of illness and death in Zambia, particularly in highly endemic areas and among pregnant women and children under five years.
Malaria accounts for 20 percent of maternal deaths. Though the country has made strides in malaria prevention and control in the last five years, it still kills more children under the age of five than any other disease or illness.
On the other hand, the prevalence of HIV among adults (15-49) is 14.3 percent. About 1.2 million people are living with HIV in Zambia as at the end of 2016.
As a result, Government is spending a fortune to keep citizens alive by procuring life-saving drugs to contain HIV and malaria.
As long as these life-saving drugs continue to be manufactured outside Africa, the country will continue spending colossal sums on importing them.
Yet, this country has potential to either make or access them cheaply.
Therefore, the decision by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to approve two applications for HIV vaccine trials and malaria control sought by the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) and Macha Research Trust is magnanimous.
As a country, we cannot continue to sit on the wings and wait to receive drugs when we have scientists who can help in solving some of the public health problems we have.
In ensuring that Zambia continues to play her part in trying to resolve some of the outstanding public health challenges, CIDRZ has been granted a permit which seeks to conduct research trials on the safety and immune-genicity of HVTN 120/ALVAC in Lusaka while the malaria control will be done at Macha Research Trust in Choma.
CIDRZ’s clinical trial will evaluate the safety and immune-genicity of ALVAC-HIV [vCP2438] genetically modified vaccine in healthy HIV-uninfected adult participants. The permit has been awarded after the organisation met the requirements in accordance with Section 18 of the Biosafety Act number 7 of 2007.
Both CIDRZ, which has met the expected safety threshold and other requirements from collaborating partners such as Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority and the Biomedical Research Ethics Committee, and the Macha Research Trust have credible credentials to conduct the research they have applied for.
The country stands to benefit economically and scientifically by undertaking the two prestigious clinical trials.
In fact, benefits are multiple, on the research institutions, participants and the communities involved.
For the research participants, they get new treatment for disease before it is available to anyone else. Participants play a more active role in their own health care.
Researchers may provide them with medical care and make frequent health check-ups as part of treatment.
CIDRZ and Macha Research Trust will be at the centre of attention from other research bodies in Africa and elsewhere.
The two institutions will grow their own team of researchers whose expertise will benefit the country beyond the current programmes.
The two research bodies will also benefit from funding from abroad and attract the much-needed foreign exchange, which will empower researchers and participants.
The bigger picture is that Zambia will be involved in resolving HIV and malaria challenges.