Vienna, Austria - Researchers say an experimental vaginal gel has significantly cut the number of women contracting HIV from infected partners. The results of the study conducted in South Africa were presented July 21, during an International AIDS Conference in Vienna. This is the first time vaginal gels or microbicides have shown any effectiveness in reducing the risk of HIV transmission.
“It is remarkable”, said the Director of the UN’s agency on AIDS, Michel Sidibe. “It’s the first time in the fight against HIV/AIDS in thirty years that we have a prevention tool that can be initiated and controlled by women.” The microbicide gel that contains an antiretroviral drug called tenofovir, reduced the infection rate by 39 percent in women who used the product for over two years.
New HIV prevention methods are badly needed, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where 60 percent of people living with HIV are women. In the coming months, there will be a meeting of experts in South Africa to determine what to do with the results of this study.
The study was conducted among 889 randomly selected women in South Africa, by the Centre for AIDS Research in South Africa, CAPRISA. These women were separated in two groups; one group was give the tenofovir gel while the other group got a placebo (a control gel which did not contain tenofovir). The results of the trial showed that there were 39percent fewer HIV infections in the group that received tenofovir gel than in the group that got the placebo.The gel was also found to be both safe and acceptable when used once in the 12 hours before sex and once in the 12 hours after sex by women aged 18 to 40 years.
This study has proven that antiretroviral drugs can be used in a vaginal gel to reduced the risk of HIV transmission in women.However, this in no way means that a product based on the results of this study will be available on pharmacy shelves any time soon. The results generated by the CAPRISA study are still being analysed it may take years to develop a product that can be licensed by a drug regulatory agency.
A nongovernmental organisation called OXFAM, that has also been very active at the AIDS 2010 conference in Vienna has said until a highly effective microbicide is available and affordable to women all over the world, governments and charities should encourage female condoms.
Female Condoms as an Alternative
Female condoms are the only HIV prevention option women have, but they are not available, on a large scale, to the general public. It is expensive and OXFAM says only about one in three hundred women have access to it. OXFAM representative Monique Demenint says “there is much research being done in microbicides but there is not yet an effective microbicide on the market. Female condoms are on the market and it is very important to get them out there to women so they can use them.”