Study: Gel cuts women’s HiV infections 50%
success rate may not be high enough for U.s. OK
For the first time, a vaginal gel has proved capable of blocking the AIDS virus: It cut in half a woman’s chances of getting HIV from an infected partner in a study in South Africa. Scientists called it a breakthrough in the long quest for a tool to help women whose partners won’t use condoms.
The results need to be confirmed in another study, and that level of protection is probably not enough to win approval of the microbicide gel in countries such as the United States, researchers say. But they are optimistic it can be improved.
“We are giving hope to women,” who account for most new HIV infections, said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the World Health Organization’s UNAIDS program. A gel could “help us break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.”
And Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said, “It’s the first time we’ve ever seen any microbicide give a positive result” that scientists agree is true evidence of protection.
The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection 50 percent after one year of use and 39 percent after 2½ years, compared with a gel that contained no medicine.
To be licensed in the U.S., a gel or
Continued from A cream to prevent HIV infection might need to be at least 80 percent effective, Fauci said.
That might be achieved by adding more tenofovir or getting women to use it more consistently.
In the study, women used the gel only 60 percent of the time; those who used it more often had higher rates of protection.
The gel also cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, commonly known as genital herpes. That’s important because other sexually spread diseases raise the risk of catching HIV.
Countries may come to different decisions about whether a gel that offers this amount of protection should be licensed. In South Africa, where one in three females is infected with HIV by age 20, this gel could prevent 1.3 million infections and 826,000 deaths over the next two decades, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, the South African researcher who led the study.
He will present results of the study today at the Inter- national AIDS Conference in Vienna.
The research was published online Monday by the journal Science.
It’s the second big advance in less than a year on the prevention front.
Last fall, scientists reported that an experimental vaccine cut the risk of HIV infection about 30 percent. Research is under way to try to improve it.
If further study shows the gel to be safe and effective, the World Health Organization will work to speed access to it, Director-General Margaret Chan said.
The gel is in limited supply; if further study proves it is effective, a full-scale production system would need to be geared up to make it.
“Every dollar we waste today puts a life at risk,” Clinton said.
Both he and Gates have started foundations that are major players in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“Our first task is to scale up prevention efforts that are cheap, efficient and easy to apply,” Gates said.
He called for pursuing male circumcision, making health institutions more efficient and using simpler HIV tests.
Clinton said organizations waste too much money on sending Western experts to affected countries and on producing reports.
Former President Bill Clinton, in Vienna on Monday, urged HIV/AIDS groups to deliver services more efficiently.