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U.N. pins hopes
on HIV microbicides

U.N. pins hopes
on HIV microbicides

Short of an HIV vaccine--for which near-term hopes are dim--microbicides are the most promising tool to slow the alarming growth of HIV infections among women, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS executive director Peter Piot said Wednesday. However, he said inadequate funding is hampering their development.

"We have a much better chance of finding this local microbicide than we will have for a vaccine," said Piot. "I am more optimistic for that because the concept is clear and simple."

"What is a bit disturbing is that funding for microbicide research is not as it should be," he said, since only half of the $300 million necessary annually is actually available. "I think that should be accelerated."

The proportion of women becoming infected is growing, especially in societies where women are less able to refuse sex or negotiate condom use. The U.N. estimates 60% of almost 30 million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa are women.

Microbicides "will be such a major breakthrough because anything in HIV prevention today depends on the goodwill and the discipline of the man," Piot said.

Some researchers believe microbicides could be on the market by 2009. Piot did not give a time frame.

Global AIDS funding is expected to reach $10 billion next year, said Piot, but the global need will have jumped to $15 billion. "The gap is growing," he said. In order to reduce treatment costs, Piot suggested a global drug pricing policy and agreements under which firms would produce drugs in the countries most affected by the disease. (Reuters)

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