MEXICO CITY - Cuba is not
intimidated by the power of transnational pharmaceutical
corporations or by governments of wealthy countries
that seek a vaccine for AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency
syndrome), which strikes 15,000 people every day worldwide.
The island's scientists affirm they could have their
own AIDS vaccine ready between 2005 and 2007.
With an annual budget of
just 100,000 dollars - a tiny sum compared to the
expenditures of the industrialized countries for AIDS
research - Cuba has been conducting AIDS studies for
the last 11 years and, though its officials admit
there have been setbacks, they affirm they are closer
than ever to a vaccine.
If other discover it first,
''all the better. We are not working for personal
glory and we are always ready to collaborate,'' Carlos
Duarte, head of the AIDS Department at the Vaccine
Division of the Cuban Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
Center, told Tierramérica.
''We still have time, but
we must work as quickly as possible and continue making
sacrifices, because the objective is worth the effort,''
stated the scientist as he took part in the international
conference ''Identity, Heritage and Education in Latin
America,'' held at Mexico's Autonomous Metropolitan
Far from the spotlights
that shine on researchers in the industrialized North,
the Cuban scientists began their search for a vaccine
by working with the neutralizing antibodies of the
virus, which seemed the appropriate route at the time,
but now they recognize that it will not provide the
Their research currently
focuses on the cytotoxic cells that destroy the cells
infected with HIV (human immuno-deficiency virus),
explained Duarte, pointing out that his team will
be ready to conduct its first clinical trials in 2002.
A vaccine has been a goal
of pharmaceutical corporations since AIDS was first
diagnosed in the 1980s. Many of the firms, like the
Cuban government, have even begun testing the prototypes
The US-based Merck pharmaceuticals
affirmed in late February that it had developed a
vaccine that seemed to be effective, and had already
begun trials with human subjects. But the company
warned that it was still too early to get hopes up
for a true cure for the disease.
In January, Italy's National
Health Institute reported it was ready to try an experimental
vaccine that promises to block the advance of HIV
instead of reinforcing the immune system, as other
attempts have done.
Many pharmaceutical firms
are keeping their scientific advances under wraps
for now, but it is widely believed that at least six
companies have tested or are currently trying out
Despite its financial
problems and the trade embargo the United States has
imposed against Cuba, the island remains at the cutting
edge in numerous areas of medical research, leading
the scientific world to take seriously its promise
for an AIDS vaccine.
Cuba already successfully
marketed more than 100 high-tech medical products
and is a pioneer in numerous discoveries, such as
a treatment that blocks the development of a heart
attack, patented in 1993 in the United States.
''We scientists cannot
make predictions, but we do have expectations and
goals, and based on our timetables, we affirm today
that it is possible we could obtain a working vaccine
against AIDS by 2005 or 2007,'' Duarte pointed out.
But it is not an easy
road - a fact recognized by scientists the world over
and by the United Nations, whose statistics indicate
that 34 million people currently test positive for
HIV, which has led to the deaths of 16.3 million,
especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the AIDS epidemic
has caused dramatic social and humanitarian crises.
If Cuba is able to develop
the vaccine, it would not be able to conduct the final
tests in its own territory, where there is a low incidence
of AIDS, but would do so in Brazil or Trinidad and
Tobago, the chief scientist explained.
There are an estimated
two million people infected with HIV in Latin America,
while in Cuba, a country of 11 million people, there
are only 3,000 reported cases.