Move to pair HIV prevention and treatment

USING antiretrovirals in microbicides as an effective HIV prevention method specifically aimed at women is in the spotlight at the Microbicides 2010 conference in the US.

USING antiretrovirals in microbicides as an effective HIV prevention method specifically aimed at women is in the spotlight at the Microbicides 2010 conference in the US.

Robin Shattock, who leads a research team at the Centre for Infection and Immunity at St George's University in London, said numerous prevention studies were probing the effectiveness of tenofovir as a prevention method.

Shattock said the battle against HIV would not be won by treatment alone and there was a need for more effective prevention methods.

Trials currently under way include Caprisa 004, a collaborative study between Family Health International, the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and US-based Conrad. The study is taking place in Durban and is assessing the effectiveness of a gel containing tenofovir, a widely-used ARV. The results will be presented at the International Aids conference in Vienna, Austria in July.

Another study was the Vaginal and Oral Intervention to Control the Epidemic. It started last year and is also testing the effectiveness of tenofovir in a vaginal gel compared to a tenofovir tablet.

The Voice study will also inform the Caprisa 004 study as to whether women prefer a tablet or a gel.

Nomfundo Eland from the Treatment Action Campaign said there was a need for improved delivery systems alongside scientific research.

"Research and science alone will not win the fight on new infection, but we will win when combined strategies to address behaviour, gender inequality, economic status of women and access to prevention tools owned by women are available," Eland told the conference.

She said it was critical to engage communities and to inform them on the various prevention methods and trials taking place in their area.

"We need to know who our allies in this work are. For example, I was recently addressing one of the biggest and most influential workers unions in South Africa - where no-one knew of any prevention trials happening in the country until the world makes noise about 'failed trials' in their backyard," Eland said.

She said stigma, policies that discriminate against those infected with HIV, sexual discrimination and funding cuts pose a threat in the success of prevention methods.

Vuyiseka Dubula, TAC's general secretary, urged researchers to persevere.

"There is a lot of negativity on prevention biomedical research due to many microbicides studies being disappointing, but we cannot give up. Activism without science is nothing and science without activism can only go so far. We need evidence to advocate for better tools for prevention," Dubula said. - Health-e news

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