Recent Cash Pledges Bring Microbicides Closer to Development, But More Commitment Needed, Advocates Say
The development of microbicides -- which include a range of products, such as gels, films and sponges, that could help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases -- has gained more "credibility" with recent promises of research funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a pledge by leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations to purchase microbicides once they become available, the New York Daily News reports. Microbicides protect women from HIV by "immobilizing" the virus or boosting their immune systems to fight the virus (Lite, New York Daily News, 7/28). Although HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse in much of Africa and Asia, no female-controlled HIV prevention method is widely available (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/24). Microbicides could save an estimated 2.5 million lives worldwide over a three-year period, according to a report commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation. Researchers are working on 14 experimental microbicides, and five are undergoing human testing to determine their efficacy. An effective microbicide could be available within three to four years, according to UNAIDS. The Gates Foundation has committed more than $88.5 million in grants to microbicide development, and the Senate earlier this month approved a $31.8 billion fiscal year 2006 foreign aid appropriations bill (HR 3057) that would increase funding earmarked for microbicides to $42 million. However, NIH dedicates only 2% -- or $69 million -- of its HIV/AIDS budget to microbicide research, compared with $607 million spent on research for an HIV/AIDS vaccine. Some advocates say NIH needs a special department dedicated to microbicide research. Lori Heise, director of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, said women must lobby government and industry to develop a safe and effective microbicide, using a grassroots approach similar to those that have been effective in promoting breast cancer research and domestic violence awareness campaigns (New York Daily News, 7/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.