12 April 2006
Durban, South Africa:
More than 5 000 Durban women have volunteered for the world's largest microbicides clinical trials that will test the efficacy of the anti-HIV product which, if successful, could prevent at least 2.5 million new infections in the developing world over the next five years.
Microbicides are products that are applied to the vagina to reduce HIV transmission during sexual intercourse and can take the form of a gel, cream, suppository or sponge that contains an active ingredient which can kill or inactivate HIV cells.
Prof Gita Ramjee, from the Medical Research Council, said that while microbicides would help in the prevention of HIV/Aids, this should not be seen as a magic bullet to prevent the disease.
She said individuals needed to change their behaviour and negotiate condom use with their partners.
Six clinical efficacy trials are being conducted in Africa, India and the United States, four of which are under way in South Africa.
Ramjee said microbicides had been formulated to help women who did not have the power to negotiate condom use with their partners and, once developed, microbicides could revolutionise women's lives by becoming an extremely important HIV prevention tool.
"HIV/Aids is a global problem, most especially in sub-Saharan Africa, in young women who are aged between 18 to 24," she said.
"While there are male and female condoms, the male condom cannot be under the control of a woman and we needed to develop a strategy, that, should a woman have unprotected sex, she would be protected."
While the African studies are focusing on HIV prevention in women only, studies in the US are also in the early stages of testing microbicides as an HIV prevention method for men who have sex with men.
"We feel we have to show if the concept works and that microbicides are efficacious for vaginal use before we can test their safety and efficacy in men who have sex with men," she said.
"Furthermore, it is well documented that the major route of HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa is through heterosexual contact.
"The trials are going really well and there has been a lot of participation from communities. We hope to have the first set of results out in late 2008 and the second set of results in late 2009 or early 2010," she said.