Irish priest first in South Africa in human HIV vaccine trials
John Henry Boudreaux | November 5, 2003
JOHANESBURG — A soft-spoken, bespectacled Irish priest on Tuesday became the
first person in South Africa to participate in human trials of an
experimental HIV vaccine.
Cameras flashed and film rolled as Kieran Creagh rolled up his
sleeve to show off the injection site and shared a glass of
champagne with medical staff at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in
Slightly embarrassed by the attention, he said: "The people
living with HIV are the real heroes."
Creagh, 41, from Belfast, Ireland, is one of 24 volunteers
participating in the first human trials in South Africa, a country
where more than one in 10 people is infected with the AIDS-causing
The drug, which is also being tested in the United States, is
one of about two dozen potential vaccines being tested by some
12,000 human volunteers in experiments around the world.
Like many volunteers, Creagh knows people with HIV and was moved
by their suffering to want to do something about the pandemic.
"I was a bit apprehensive the last few days ... but reality set
in," he said. "This is a good thing to be a part of, so bring it
Some 4.7 million South Africans, roughly 11 percent of the
population, are infected with HIV. An estimated 600 to 1,000 South
Africans die every day from AIDS-related complications.
Creagh said the church's efforts against HIV, including
education and abstinence drives, have fallen short, and he now
believes that only medical research can provide a solution.
"I don't want the young people to suffer any more," he said.
The drug he is helping to test, developed by U.S. and South
African scientists, contains parts of a weakened strain of
Venezuelan equine encephalitis and a harmless gene from the strain
of HIV most prevalent in South Africa.
By entering human cells, scientists hope it will stimulate the
production of antibodies that will fight off AIDS infections, and
also train specialized cells - dubbed killer T-cells - to identify
and eliminate cells infected with the virus.
The drug has already been extensively tested on animals. The
first human trials are aimed at establishing the safety of the drug
and are expected to last two years.
Creagh was asked to keep a daily record of his temperature, any
soreness and a general description of the injection site for
further research. He does not know if he received the drug or a
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