Researchers Consider ‘Low-Tech’ HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment Methods, Including Microbicides
Because the prospects for an effective HIV vaccine appear to be falling short, researchers have been focusing with "increasing ... urgency" on other "low tech" solutions to help curb HIV transmission -- including microbicides, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/16). Researchers at a plenary session of the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, called for increased research on microbicides to bolster HIV prevention efforts, especially among women (Mader, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/15). An effective microbicide would be the "holy grail" of AIDS prevention technology for women, according to the Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/16). Microbicides include a range of products such as gels, films, sponges and other products that could help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse in much of Africa and Asia, no female-controlled HIV prevention method currently is widely available. An effective microbicide would be important for women in resource-poor countries whose partners refuse to use condoms. Two microbicides -- one called Savvy, which is made by Biosyn, and another called Carraguard, which was developed by the Population Council -- are currently undergoing efficacy testing in Ghana and South Africa, respectively. Four additional microbicides also will begin testing soon. HIV/AIDS experts believe that a "partially effective" microbicide could prevent 2.5 million HIV infections over three years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/14).
Five to Seven Years
Zeda Rosenberg, CEO of the International Partnership for Microbicides-- which is calling for a $1 billion microbicide research project -- said that although six microbicides are slated to begin clinical trials, she does not expect an effective microbicide to be available for between five and seven years, according to the Chronicle. Rosenberg said, "Women are in desperate need of having something under their control as far as HIV prevention." Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, "The idea of prevention is to get out in front of this epidemic. The bottom line is that these tools could save millions of lives over the next few years" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/16). Rosenberg said that compared with HIV vaccine research, "there has been virtually no private sector investment in microbicide development," adding, "The science is there. The technology is there, and most of all, the passion and dedication of those in the field is palpable" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/15).