Background: South Africa is a major hub of HIV prevention trials, with plans for a licensure trial to start in 2015. The appropriate standards of care and of prevention in HIV vaccine trials are complex and debated issues and ethical guidelines offer some direction. However, there has been limited empirical exploration of South African stakeholders' perspectives on ethical guidance related to prevention and care in HIV vaccine trials.
Methods: Site staff, Community Advisory Board members and Research Ethics Committee members involved with current HIV vaccine trials in South Africa were invited to participate in an exploration of their views. A questionnaire listed 10 care and 10 prevention recommendations drawn from two widely available sets of ethical guidelines for biomedical HIV prevention trials. Respondents (n = 98) rated each recommendation on five dimensions: "Familiarity with", "Ease of Understanding", "Ease of Implementing", "Perceived Protection", and "Agreement with" each ethical recommendation. The ratings were used to describe stakeholder perspectives on dimensions for each recommendation. Dimension ratings were averaged across the five dimensions and used as an indication of overall merit for each recommendation. Differences were explored across dimensions, between care-oriented and prevention-oriented recommendations, and between stakeholder groups.
Results: Both care and prevention recommendations were rated highly overall, with median ratings well above the scale midpoint. In general, informed consent recommendations were most positively rated. Care-related recommendations were rated significantly more positively than prevention-related recommendations, with the five lowest-rated recommendations being prevention-related. The most problematic dimension across all recommendations was "Ease of Implementing," and the least problematic was "Agreement with," suggesting the most pressing stakeholder concerns are practical rather than theoretical; that is, respondents agree with but see barriers to the attainment of these recommendations.
Conclusions: We propose that prevention recommendations be prioritized for refinement, especially those assigned bottom-ranking scores for "Ease of Implementing", and/ or "Ease of Understanding" in order to assist vaccine stakeholders to better comprehend and implement these recommendations. Further qualitative research could also assist to better understand nuances in stakeholder reservations about implementing such recommendations.