Salim Abdool Karim of South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal told an AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, on Thursday that new HIV prevention treatments for women might be available as early as 2009. Microbicides, which women could possibly use in gel or cream form to prevent HIV infection, do not need a partner's consent, Abdool Karim said.
U.N. estimates show that 60% of the nearly 30 million HIV-infected people in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and this proportion is growing--especially in societies where women are less able to refuse sex or negotiate condom use. Female condoms, introduced to give women more control over their sexual health, have not been completely effective, as men may refuse to have sex with a woman who is wearing one, according to Abdool Karim.
Microbicides that kill HIV in the vagina, block it from infecting other cells, or prevent it from multiplying are currently in human trials. Abdool Karim said results could be available by early 2008. Should microbicides prove effective, they could be available to women within one or two years after fast-track regulatory approval.
Experts estimate microbicides could prevent 2.5 million AIDS deaths over three years. Abdool Karim, who oversees one of five advanced human clinical trials, cautioned that it is still too early to say whether microbicides will prove effective. But in theory, Abdool Karim said, microbicides could protect women from HIV over a period of days or could be applied after sex to prevent infection. The research is complicated, and major pharmaceutical companies are not involved. Most microbicide projects are undertaken by small biotechnology companies, often funded through donations from agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Reuters)