A Small HIV Intervention Programme becomes a Government Clinical Trial Centre
The Mbeya region in Tanzania is a remote, rural area that encompasses two major highways and is adjacent to two international borders. In the late 1980s, the HIV epidemic rapidly expanded in the Mbeya region, fueled by these unique geographic features and exacerbated by a lack of trained health staff, shortage of medicine, and a poor healthcare infrastructure.
To respond to the rapidly growing HIV epidemic in the region, in 1988 the Tanzania government (through the Mbeya Regional Medical Officer’s Office and the Mbeya Referral Hospital), in collaboration with the German Agency for Technical Co-operation and the University of Munich in Germany, established an intervention programme on HIV/AIDS called the “Mbeya Regional AIDS Control Programme.” This evolved to become a research programme aimed at improving HIV/AIDS intervention strategies.
To help bolster these research efforts and help fight against the rapidly expanding HIV epidemic, the Programme began collaborating with other partners including the US Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) in the late 1990’s and the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). Under the strong and committed leadership of Dr. Leonard Maboko and Prof Michael Hoelscher, MMRP rapidly expanded its research focus to include:
- basic research
- clinical trials (evaluating new interventions including vaccines, drugs and diagnostics)
- epidemiological research
- operational research
- social sciences
The program continues to grow in scope and diversity. It has conducted several studies on tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. It has established four vaccine cohorts, two high risk/high incidence cohorts, and two general population cohorts enrolling more than 20,000 participants all together. The site has a historical record of being the first in the country to implement an HIV vaccine trial in 2005, and to date they have successfully conducted four Phase I/II HIV vaccine trials.
The research activities are supported by an active Community Advisory Board (CAB), which was created in 2005 as part of an effort to facilitate dialogue between community members, study volunteers and the research team.
In 2010, MMRP became NIMR-Mbeya Medical Research Center (a government institution under the NIMR). In an effort to expand and strengthen its HIV clinical trial capabilities, NIMR-Mbeya joined the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) in 2014 as part of the MHRP Clinical Trials Unit.
The historical development of NIMR-Mbeya Medical Research Center is closely linked to the HIV epidemic in Tanzania. It has expanded to meet the needs of the community, and today it is poised to help find an effective vaccine to prevent infection.