Imagine a gel that a woman could use to help stop HIV. What if there was a cream that could protect your HIV-negative partner? Suppose you had a vaginal ring that would release a drug slowly to reduce the risk of re-infection. What if this gel or cream or ring could also prevent pregnancy, or, let you get pregnant with reduced risk of infection?
People all over the world are not only imagining such a gel, cream or ring, they are actually working to make them a reality. These possibilities -- called microbicides -- could be a reality in the next decade.
Microbicides are products that, when applied topically, could prevent transmission of HIV and other infections. Microbicides are not yet available; but once they are, they would be putting the power of prevention directly into women's hands.
Products are in development that work in one of several ways: killing or otherwise immobilizing pathogens; blocking infection by creating a barrier between the pathogen and its target cells; or preventing the infection from taking hold after it has entered the body.
Scientists are currently testing dozens of products to figure out if they help protect against HIV and other STDs. Of those, five are in human trials in which thousands of women are using the products to figure out if they are effective against HIV.
HIV-positive women are some of the most vocal advocates for microbicides. They could help protect women from sexually transmitted and vaginal infections other than HIV, which can pose an even larger danger when one's immune system is challenged. Some microbicides under development may disable HIV in both semen and vaginal secretions. It could actually give HIV-positive women a way to help protect their partners who may not use condoms.
Some microbicides may also be contraceptive, while others will not. A non-contraceptive microbicide that also protects one's partner would give positive women who want to have children another option. Finally, because women living with HIV may have different needs for (and responses to) various microbicide products, we need to make sure that positive women are involved in the testing of microbicides.
Microbicide research depends on government funding, because big pharmaceuticals are not investing in this research. Right now, barely 2% of the US budget for AIDS research (only two cents of every dollar) is spent on efforts to find a safe, effective microbicide. When we have a microbicide largely depends on how many people are demanding them. In order for microbicides to be a higher priority, our leaders need to hear from voters that microbicides are important.
Right now, the Microbicide Development Act (MDA) is working its way through both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If passed, it will help ensure that the US government's commitment to microbicide research and development is increased substantially.
To help make microbicides a reality, call or email your senators and representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the MDA!
To email, go to www.global-campaign.org where you can find a ready-made letter to send or you can write your own.
To call, simply find their phone number at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov and leave a message as simple as: "I am calling to ask the Representative (or Senator) to sign on to the Microbicide Development Act. This bill can make a major difference in fighting AIDS globally."
Once you have made this call or sent that email, there are many other things you can do. Through Global Campaign for Microbicides, people around the world are working in their own communities to demand safe and effective user-controlled HIV prevention tools. At the Global Campaign website, you can: