U.K. Pledges $45 Million To Test Microbicide Gels To Prevent HIV Infection Among Women
The U.K. Department for International Development on Tuesday pledged $45 million to fund trials of a microbicide gel that could prevent HIV infection among women, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/5). 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. HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse in much of Africa and Asia, but no female-controlled HIV prevention method currently is widely available (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/24/04). The trials -- which will last 39 months and be conducted by the U.K. Microbicides Development Programme, a partnership between DFID and the U.K. Medical Research Council and administered by the MRC Clinical Trials Unit and Imperial College London -- are expected to begin in four months and will include more than 10,000 women in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. MRC also announced on Tuesday that it will provide approximately $3.7 million to fund the trials. The experimental microbicide gel, known as PRO 2000, can be applied before sexual intercourse and is formulated to prevent HIV from attaching to human cells, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/5). The final-stage trials will test the safety and effectiveness of PRO 2000, according to an MRC release.
"The funding will take us one step further towards identifying an effective microbicide -- a crucial element of our effort to reduce HIV transmission," MRC Clinical Trials Unit Director Janet Darbyshire said. DFID Secretary Hilary Benn said, "Women vulnerable to infection are frequently unable to refuse sex or to insist on the use of a condom," adding, "Research has shown that an effective microbicide could prevent up to 2.5 million people worldwide from HIV infection over three years" (MRC release, 4/6). Nick Partridge, director of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Terrence Higgins Trust, said, "The development of a microbicide would be a significant step forward in the fight against HIV, as would the discovery of an effective vaccine. But it is important to remember that these are long-term strategies that will take many years to reach the people that need them and may never be successfully developed. In the short term, promoting condom use and good sex education are essential if we are to prevent more unnecessary deaths from HIV" (BBC News, 4/5).