Gender Equality in AIDS Prevention: Why We Need Prevention Options for Women
HIV/AIDS Is Rapidly Becoming a Women's Epidemic
Women Are Biologically More Vulnerable to Infection and Its Consequences
Gender Inequities Prevent Many Women From Being Able to Protect Themselves
HIV Prevention Strategies Must Address Women's Needs and Vulnerabilities
Women need education, economic opportunity, and social support.
Women need gender equality in order to protect their health and rights.
Women need HIV and STI prevention tools they can control.
Women need microbicides.
What Are Microbicides (Mi-KRO'-bi-sidz)?
"Microbicides" are products designed to help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs when applied topically. A microbicide could be produced in many forms, including gels, creams, pessaries (suppositories), films, or as a sponge or ring that releases the active ingredient over time.
Would a Microbicide Eliminate the Need for Condoms?
No. Microbicides alone will probably never be as effective as correctly used condoms. They will, however, offer back-up protection for condom users. They will also offer a real prevention alternative for people who can't or don't use condoms. Researchers have shown that, if even 20% of women in 73 lower income countries used a 60% effective microbicide in half the sex acts where condoms aren't used, 2.5 million HIV infections could be averted over 3 years.
What If a Woman Wants to Get Pregnant?
Some of the microbicides being investigated prevent pregnancy and some do not. We need contraceptive ("dual-action") microbicides to prevent both pregnancy and disease and non-contraceptive microbicides to enable women to protect their health and still have children. This is not possible with condoms.
Would Men Benefit From Microbicides as Well?
By using a bi-directional microbicides (one that disables HIV in both semen and vaginal secretions), HIV positive women may be able to help protect their partners from HIV infection. It may also be possible to develop microbicides that can be used rectally, but the safety and effectiveness of microbicides for rectal use must be established separately. Rectal safety studies of some potential microbicides are now beginning.
Who Is Working on Microbicide Research and Development?
Virtually all microbicide research to date has been conducted by non-profit and academic institutions or small biotech companies. Studies are funded by charitable foundations and government grants. These public funds also support basic science, social and behavioural research, and clinical trial infrastructure that contribute to microbicide research and development. Large pharmaceutical companies have not invested significantly in this field, primarily because microbicides are a classic "public health good" which would yield tremendous benefits to society but for which the profit incentive to private investment is low.
Why Do We Need Microbicides If We Will Eventually Have an HIV-Vaccine?
No one strategy or technology will end the AIDS pandemic. We need existing prevention strategies -- such as behaviour change, voluntary counselling and testing, access to clean needles and syringes, STI diagnosis and treatment, broad access to male and female condoms, and anti-retroviral drugs -- and new tools such as microbicides and vaccines. Once developed, these new technologies will meet specific areas of need, with microbicides putting prevention options directly in women's hands.
Why Aren't Microbicides Available Now?
Scientists have identified more than 50 product leads and are testing them to find out which ones could be safe and effective for regular use. Unfortunately, not enough public funding is available to move their research along efficiently. Getting a safe, effective microbicide on the shelves in the near future doesn't depend as much on the speed of scientific progress as it does on increasing the level of funding to support research, development and access. If we want microbicides, we have to demand sufficient public funding to develop them without delay.
This article was provided by Global Campaign for Microbicides. Visit the Global Campaign for Microbicides' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.