HIV gel also limits herpes
Durban - Researchers have discovered that a vaginal gel which reduces women from contracting HIV, also limits herpes infections, the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) said on Tuesday.
"We did not set out to test the research on HSV-2 (herpes) it's something that happened within the study," Dr Leila Mansoon said at a media briefing in Durban.
Mansoon, who was part of the research group, said herpes was the most common infection and there was no cure for it.
The gel also cut in half the chances of getting the herpes virus that caused genital warts.
Mansoon said these results were determined after an analysis of the research was done, and "there was a lot of excitement".
"Everybody was very very excited when we realised that we were on to something," said Mansoon.
The results of the study were presented in Vienna, Austria, where the 18th International Conference on HIV/Aids was taking place.
The results need to be confirmed, and scientists disagree about whether this amount of protection is enough to justify using the gel now.
It was the first hope of protection for women if their partners refused to wear condoms.
The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug Tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection by 50% after one year of use, and 39% after two and a half years.
In limited supply, the gel was made for this and other ongoing studies.
The gel was tested on 889 heterosexual women in and around Durban.
Easy to use
Half were given the microbicide and the others, a dummy gel.
Women were told to use it 12 hours before sexual intercourse and as soon as possible within 12 hours afterwards.
At the study's end, there were 38 HIV infections among the microbicide group versus 60 in the others.
The gel seemed safe with only mild diarrhoea slightly more common among those using it.
Surveys showed a vast majority of women found it easy to use and said their partners didn't mind it. It showed that 99% of the women said they would use the gel if they knew for sure it prevented HIV.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele chairperson of the Technology Innovation Agency board said the research put South Africa and the University of KwaZulu-Natal on the map.
"When it came to HIV, South Africa was on the news for the wrong reasons but today, (Tuesday) it's in the news for the right reasons," said Ramphele.
She said she hoped that researchers could build on the study and conquer the HIV virus.
"…We are putting in the hands of women the capacity to control their own bodies…This gel will enable women to protect themselves," she said.
During the research women who were on the programme and fell pregnant were put off.
"All women involved gave consent every month (when) we had meetings.
"We gave counselling and tested for HIV. If a woman fell pregnant we withheld the gel," said Dr Kholeka Mlisana one of the researchers from Caprisa.
Mlisana said the gel was colourless and odourless. It was inserted using applicator into the vagina.
Mlisana said there were many processes that need to be followed before the gel could be used.
She also said a confirmed study needed to be conducted and it was hard to tell when and if the gel would be available to the public.