Breakthrough in HIV protection

2009-02-09 16:19

Chatsworth - A world-wide study has found that a new vaginal product, the Pro2000, has a 30% effect on HIV in women, the Medical Research Council (MRC) said in Durban on Monday.

"For the first time since the epidemic we are seeing something that would provide an option for women to prevent infection," principal investigator Professor Gita Ramjee told journalists at the council's branch in Chatsworth.

The results of the study were also presented at an international meeting in Montreal, Canada on Monday.

The study, involving 3 099 women, was conducted between February 2005 and September 2008 in Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the United States.

Ramjee said two products were tested - the Pro2000 and BufferGel.

Number of infections

During the course of the study, 194 infections occurred - 36 infections among women using Pro2000 gel, 54 infections occurred among women using the BufferGel, 51 infections occurred among participants who used the placebo gel, while 53 infections occurred among participants who used no gel.

Pro2000 was found to have a 30% effect against HIV, she said.

"... however additional evidence is needed to conclusively determine whether Pro2000 is an effective microbicide... This product has to be proven by another trial," she said.

Microbicides are substances designed to prevent or reduce the sexual transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

"Once approved, it would be taken forward..."

A glimmer of hope

Ramjee said the outcome of the study showed there was hope.

"After working for over a decade in microbicide research, we are seeing a glimmer of hope of finding a safe and effective microbicide which could protect women and substantially reduce new HIV infections here in South Africa and globally."

Although no microbicides are approved or available for use, an effective product could provide women with an HIV prevention method which they can initiate, she said.

"This would be particularly helpful in situations where it is difficult or impossible for women to negotiate condom use with their male partners..."

Women account for half of the 33 million people living with HIV/Aids world-wide.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women account for 60% of all infected adults.

In several southern African countries, young women between the age of 15 and 24 are at least three times more likely than their male peers to be infected with HIV.