A new study completed by the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa has some big news for women's health. The results showed a significant reduction in risk of HIV infection among women who used a new kind of microbicide gels. There was a significant reduction in genital herpes as well, a common STI that often increases the risk of acquiring an HIV infection.
This new microbicide gel contains the antiretroviral drug tenofovir; use of the gel reduced HIV infection by nearly 40 percent and the herpes virus by over 50 percent. The possibilities of the results are extremely profound, and open up new doors for HIV prevention. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, says "All new advances in HIV prevention, particularly for women are exciting. We look forward in seeing these results confirmed. Once they have been shown to be safe and effective, WHO will work with countries and partners to accelerate access to these products." Sounds good to me.
There are more than few reasons this study's results are being celebrated. First and foremost, few women-controlled methods of preventing HIV exist. Protecting our own bodies from HIV relied on our partners, and up until now, female condoms were our main way of preventing HIV while having control over our own contraceptive methods. Having more alternatives to safer healthier sex are extremely powerful and empowering for women in all communities.
Second, over half the people living with HIV are women. HIV is a major cause of maternal mortality. Having a gel that can be applied within 12 hours before sex and again within 12 hours after sex has the potential to be safe and accessible to women all over the world.
Finally, it's a victory for the overall commitment to eradicating the HIV epidemic. Finding new and effective drugs to prevent HIV infections open new doors for further research, potential new drugs and studies.
It's another reminder that we need to continue to strengthen our communities by providing access to safe and accurate sex education and contraceptives. Encouraging men and women to use protection when engaging in sex is an absolute must in preventing STI's, including HIV.
For a full understanding of the results, the full study is available here.