The product, which slowly releases an antiretroviral drug, has been presented by the International Partnership for Microbicides.
DENMARK – In a new attempt to win the battle against AIDS, a vaginal ring that helps prevent transmission of the virus could become the hope of millions of women living under high contagion risk, especially in the poorest countries.
The ring that slowly releases an antiretroviral drug has been presented by the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), a non-profit organization that participates in the international conference Women Deliver.
“While many speak of the end of the epidemic is near, the battle is not over yet. Women are becoming infected at very high levels in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said the executive director of IPM, Zeda Rosenberg, adding that six out of ten affected in this region are women.
This silicone ring that is placed in the vagina and must be replaced every four weeks, aims to help tackle the epidemic in the region, where women aged 15 to 24 are twice more likely to contract HIV than men.
With this new method, similar to the contraceptive vaginal ring, women can take control over their health without having to negotiate with their partner.
After conducting several experiments in sub-Saharan Africa to demonstrate its effectiveness, the ring is now under a new study where the results will be known from July prior to getting regulatory approval to allow its marketing.
Roseberg said that if everything goes perfectly, they can have it on the market at the end of 2018. The goal is that the price is below $ 5 per unit.
Activists and experts involved in the Women Deliver meeting to chart new strategies to improve the health of girls and women have enthusiastically welcomed this scientific breakthrough that could mark a before and after in the fight against AIDS, especially in the African continent.
“The most important thing is that the ring can be used without the consent of men and women have the option to choose for themselves,” said South African human rights activist Yvette Raphael.
One of the main challenges, he explains, is to work closely with local communities, explaining the benefits of the new drug and get their acceptance because without it, few young people dare to use it.
Therefore, IPM works with activists like Raphael on the ground to present the vaginal ring as an option to protect themselves against HIV, reminding them that should not be a substitute, but a reinforcement to other methods such as condoms.
Since 2012, IPM has conducted several studies involving more than 2,600 women between 18 and 45 years participated at high risk of infection in South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi and proved that this method allowed reducing infections up to 56% in women over 21 years.
Beyond the scientific challenges, the great challenge to develop this vaginal ring has been financing, since it is increasingly difficult to get collaborators or financers.
However, the project has the support of some big companies and governments like Denmark.
“Unfortunately research has less and less interest to donors. So we decided to invest in the vaginal ring, because we want to do everything possible to try to stop the AIDS epidemic,” said senior health adviser in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sanne Helt.