New AIDS prevention method for women announced
Research has begun in Africa to assess whether a new kind of vaginal ring may help protect women from the AIDS virus.
Many believe that enabling women to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases when a partner refuses to wear a condom is crucial to tackling the AIDS epidemic. Figures suggest that women make up half of the 34.2 million people worldwide living with HIV – 60% of those affected in Africa are women.
Developing ‘microbodies’ has so far proved difficult. Partial protection was found when using an experimental anti-AIDS vaginal gel, but this relied on women remembering to use it every time they have sex.
The new preventative treatment being tested is a vaginal ring that only needs to be inserted once a month. It slowly releases an anti-AIDS drug called dapivirine into the surrounding tissue. Unlike some vaginal rings already available in the US, this particular ring is focused solely on HIV protection and does not contain birth control.
Dr Carl Dieffenbach of the US National Institutes of Health announced the new research last week at the International AIDS Conference, saying that it marks an attempt at “the next generation of women-focused prevention tools”.
Serra Sippel of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity said that women were often overlooked in HIV prevention efforts. “Women are the blind spot in the conversation,” she said.
Early studies suggest that the ring could work. It will now take larger studies to confirm whether it is effective enough. The goal is to see if using the ring will lower women’s risk of HIV infection by at least 60%.