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Brazilian trial site launches novel online recruitment strategy

The Federal University in Sao Paulo, Brazil has launched a novel, web-based recruitment strategy for its Phase I preventive AIDS vaccine trial, which is scheduled to start in April 2004. The trial site’s web page includes an online questionnaire for people who are interested in participating. The questionnaire asks about some HIV risk factors, including numbers of sexual partners and frequency of unprotected sex, and about willingness to participate in an AIDS vaccine trial. This information is kept highly confidential and is only used by trial staff to identify potential trial volunteers. Each person who responds receives an individualized reply and people who might qualify for the trial are invited to the trial site to learn more about the official screening process.

The website received a lot of media coverage prior to its launch on 14 March. On the first day more than 1,500 people visited the site and 125 had filled out the entire questionnaire. “We have had a massive response,” says site trial leader Dr. Esper Kallas. He thinks that one reason why so many people filled out the questionnaires is that “Brazil has such a positive attitude towards AIDS today.” Kallas says that this attitude comes from a strong sense of national pride in Brazil’s highly visible fight against HIV, which includes campaigns to end AIDS-related stigma and discrimination, and a national HIV treatment program.

The Sao Paulo site is one of the first AIDS vaccine trial sites to recruit potential volunteers online. The website also provides information about AIDS vaccine research and the risks and benefits of trial participation.

The Sao Paulo site is part of an international Phase I trial of an experimental vaccine candidate called MRK-Ad5 that has been developed by Merck. The trial is being conducted by the US HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and Merck and will include sites in Brazil, Haiti, Malawi, Peru, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Thailand and the US.