New Delhi, January 23 : Scientists are developing a new AIDS vaccine with the ability to ward off three variants of HIV sweeping across Hong Kong, Taiwan, and western areas of China.
Chen Zhiwei, director of the new AIDS Institute in Hong Kong, has revealed that gene sequencing is being to determine how track how HIV viruses on the mainland are evolving, and their geographical spread.
He says that two closely related HIV variants have been spread-one to as far as Xinjiang in the northwest and the second to Guangdong in the south, from southwestern Yunnan Province-by intravenous drug users (IDUs).
According to him, the third variant, which is present in Yunnan and southern Guangxi province, passes mainly through heterosexual sex.
Chen has revealed that US and Chinese scientists have developed a vaccine based on the two HIV variants spreading among IDUs, which they hope to test on animals by the end of the year.
"If you want to make a vaccine, it is better to have a local strain as a target to work on," the China Daily quoted him as saying.
Chen has also revealed that the HIV variants circulating in south and west China are similar to the ones found in India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"The epidemic in China has evolved over time. Previously, the major risk factors were IDUs and the tragic story of blood donation in central China. But after these people got infected, they passed it on and it is now in the general population," Chen said.
"After 2006, heterosexual sex has been playing the major role in transmission of the virus. Infections have gone up in the general population and from mother to child," he added.
The researcher believes that the presence of such variants in Taiwan and Hong Kong may also be a telltale sign of the travelling routes of drug users in the region.
The AIDS Institute hopes to help set up HIV screening centres in China, which is estimated to have about 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS.