S. Africa begins AIDS vaccine trial

South Africa launched a high-profile trial of an AIDS vaccine created by its own researchers Monday, a proud moment in a nation where government denial, neglect and unscientific responses have helped fuel the world's worst AIDS crisis.

After a government official lauded the project at a ceremony at Cape Town's Crossroads shantytown, the scientist leading the research said state funding had been halted.

The contrast between Monday's hopeful vaccine launch and the revelation of funding cuts raised questions about whether the government was backsliding on its pledge to combat AIDS.

Anna-Lise Williamson, an AIDS researcher at the University of Cape Town, told The Associated Press the clinical trial would continue with U.S. money. But she said South Africa's Department of Science and Technology had pulled its funding in March, while the project's other sponsor, the state electricity utility Eskom, did not renew its contract when it expired last year.

Neither government spokesmen nor Eskom immediately returned calls seeking comment about funding cuts.

The South African vaccine was developed at the University of Cape Town and targets the specific HIV strain that has ravaged South Africa. It is also undergoing safety tests at a trial involving 12 volunteers in Boston that began earlier this year, said Sarah B. Alexander, spokeswoman for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network at the Fenway Institute, an AIDS treatment center where the trial is under way.

The safety trials started in the U.S. to allay any criticism the United States was collaborating on an AIDS vaccine that might be seen as using Africans as guinea pigs, she said.