A new study shows that topical application of a microbicide before and after sex reduced transmission of HIV by 39% and transmission of herpes by 51%, according to an article published in Science magazine. Those who used the gel most regularly reduced their chances of HIV infection by 54%. Unlike other microbicides, which have been shown to be ineffective, this new product contains tenofovir, an anti-retroviral medication used to treat HIV/AIDS patients.
The results were announced at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna by Drs. Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA). The trial, known as CAPRISA 004, was conducted in South Africa among 889 women to evaluate the ability of 1% tenofovir gel to prevent male to female HIV transmission. The study was conducted in two neighborhoods in South Africa with very high HIV prevalence, and included 889 sexually active HIV-free women.
Though more trials are needed to confirm the results, experts in the field are enthusiastic. “This is very encouraging,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. “It can be controlled by women, and put in 12 hours earlier, and that is empowering. They do not have to ask the man for permission to use it. And the cost of the gel is not high.”
If approved and produced on a large scale, the gel would cost less than 25 cents per application. In regions where women’s disempowerment makes them more vulnerable to infection, this type of product could have a huge impact, as it would be the first effective method allowing women to protect themselves without their partners’ consent or knowledge. Women and girls contract HIV at higher rates than their male counterparts largely because women do not have sufficient power in their relationships to demand their partner take preventative measures.
USAID contributed the majority of the funding for the study and development of the gel, and the trial was conducted by CAPRISA in partnership with FHI and CONRAD.