March 27, 2012
There has been mixed progress in the development of a vaginal-microbicide gel containing the ARV tenofovir, which was proved to reduce HIV infections in women by up to 54 percent. South African researchers reported a breakthrough in microbicide research at AIDS 2010 in Vienna. Researchers also discovered that microbicides reduced a woman's risk of herpes by an amazing 51 percent.
But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) abruptly canceled its large-scale microbicides trial in November 2011. One of the tested gels failed to prevent infection. Scientists are unsure what went wrong, but important research continues on other microbicides, a vaginal ring and an anal-microbicide gel.
With this reality as the backdrop, the Black AIDS Institute sponsored a delegation of members of the Black Treatment Advocacy Network (BTAN) to attend the annual meeting of the NIH-funded Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) this past February. What were the participants' most important takeaways for Black Americans? Read on ...
Zupenda M. Davis, Dr.P.H(c)s
Training specialist, Health Federation of Philadelphia
"The fact that the research is taking place means the potential is there for the Black community -- because that's where new infections are disproportionately found. Microbicides open new [opportunities] for women because women don't have to ask their partner's consent. Many Black women may not be able to negotiate safer sex or condoms because of the inequality in relationships.
"Black Americans should know what microbicides are and what they are used for. We need to know there are different kinds: vaginal, anal and penile. We also need to know that microbicides are still in the research stage. Unfortunately, the research is going to take time, but we need to make sure that it's effective. We also need to bring more Black people in clinical trials. We can't say that it's going to be effective for Blacks if Black people are not involved."
Founder, Georgia Association of Positive People, Atlanta
"The most important thing that Black people should understand: Exactly what are microbicides? How do they work? Who would they benefit? Prevention experts, AIDS service organizations, researchers and doctors need to explain this in easy-to-understand language that potential clinical-trial participants could understand -- and convince enough Black folks to be involved in clinical trials. And find ways to explain it to those of us who are infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. All of this speaks to the need for more health literacy among Black Americans, especially as it relates to HIV/AIDS."
"There is a high level of mistrust surrounding clinical trials in Black communities. But there should not be any cause for mistrust with microbicides. Black Americans need to know how microbicides work -- and hear that the research so far has been amazing! If microbicides can actually do what they're designed to do, that could be a great opportunity for the Black community. There are so many HIV-related health disparities within our community. We need every tool at our disposal to fight the epidemic."
Director of education, Center for AIDS Information & Advocacy, Houston
"The most important takeaway is a reminder that Black communities need to seriously get behind prevention. There is a rapidly expanding toolbox that we could have at our disposal within a few years: condoms, PrEP, microbicides, vaginal rings. There needs to be a full-court press from the grass roots. If we start talking now about microbicides -- what they do, how to use them, etc. -- when they finally arrive, we will be ready.
"Black women will probably be very good at implementing microbicides. Many women take birth control pills every day, even if they are not having sex, for the long-term benefit or the perceived benefit. Women are very good at following regimens. I can already see that women may have to take the lead and explain PrEP or anal microbicides to brothas!"
Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, The Advocate, ColorLines, The Body and other media. McCollum blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.