WASHINGTON – The quest continues for a simple way to reduce HIV transmission using topical gels,creams,suppositories or films that women could use with or without their partner knowing about it.
The products,called microbicides,could be particularly useful in countries with high infection rates,even among married women.
“The face of HIV globally is increasingly female,” said Zeda F. Rosenberg,chief executive officer of the International Partnership for Microbicides.
She spoke at a briefing Tuesday sponsored by the Alliance for Microbicide Development,Global Alliance for Microbicides,International Partnership for Microbicides and Women's Policy Inc.
Rosenberg said “women are bearing the brunt” of the HIV epidemic. She said 66 percent of women surveyed in Zimbabwe and South Africa reported one lifetime partner,yet 40 percent were HIV positive.
In this country,women make 26 percent of AIDS cases,but girls make up 57 percent of new cases among teenagers.
Although drug trials continue across the globe,it is likely to be five to seven years until a substance is accessible to women in developing countries.
“We are so close at this point that the question is no longer if,but rather when,these products are actually going to be available to the women who need them,but it will not come a moment too soon,” said Sen. Barack Obama,D-Ill.
Last year,Obama,along with Sen. Olympia Snowe,R-Maine,and former senator Jon Corzine,D-N.J.,introduced the Microbicide Development Act. The bill has been referred to a committee.
The act would expand and coordinate microbicide research and development by creating a microbicide research and development unit at the National Institutes of Health. It would also authorize more money for microbicidal development at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Obama said that in developing countries there is often an “uneven power in the sexes” and that marriage is no longer a refuge from the virus. He said that HIV prevention methods initiated by women are “long overdue” in the U.S. and in developing countries and urged the federal government “to step up to the plate.”
Rosenberg said “microbicides would not be a magic bullet” but could restore a woman's “right to self-protection.” Condoms,used correctly,provide better protection,but not everyone can or will use them. Researchers predict that,even if a small number of women use a microbicide that is 60 percent effective,it would prevent 2.5 million infections over three years.
A women's susceptibility to HIV infection is a combination of biological,social and cultural factors,Rosenberg said.
“Marriage and a woman's fidelity are not sufficient to protect themselves from HIV infection,” she said. “Many women were infected despite staying faithful to one partner.”
Susan F. Wood,former Food and Drug Administration assistant commissioner for women’s health,was in the audience. She resigned last year when the FDA delayed a final ruling on whether to make the “morning after pill” more accessible to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“Microbicide development is so critical,” she said. “It's been an issue in women's health for decades.”