Gel to block HIV spread raises hope

Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

The much anticipated outcome of an HIV trial that assessed the effectiveness of "microbicide gel" in preventing transmission of the virus - from men to women - has shown positive results.

The findings show that the Pro 2000 gel, as it is called, prevents HIV infection by 30percent. The results of the three-year study, HPTN 035, were announced by the South African Medical Research Council in Durban yesterday.

The council's principal investigator, Gita Ramjee, said: "For the first time over a decade of microbicide research we have found a product that shows promise and suggests that the concept of microbicides for HIV prevention can be a reality.

"Although the results of the trial are encouraging, they aren't statistically significant. If we had reached at least 33percent in preventing transmission from men to women it would have made a bigger difference."

The HPTN 035 trial begun in February 2005 ended in September last year. It involved the studying of two gels - Pro 2000 and BufferGel - on their effectiveness in preventing HIV transmission from men to women. Some 3099 HIV-negative women participated at seven clinical research sites in Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the US. Two of the sites were set up in KwaZulu-Natal, regarded as the epicentre of HIV-Aids in the country.