Hopes that vaginal ring will prevent HIV

22 March 2016 - 09:02
By Katharine Child

Scientists hope a new study of a vaginal ring that reduces the risk of HIV in women will show it to be even better at stopping HIV infection.

The ring‚ which cannot be felt during sex‚ secretes an ARV called Dapivirine into the vagina.

The ring‚ which must be changed monthly‚ was designed to help prevent HIV in women especially if they cannot negotiate condom use with partners.

Trial results‚ announced last month‚ show the ring offered South African women over the age of 25 up to 60% protection from HIV.

The US National Institutes of Health has just announced funding for an extension trial of the Dapivirine ring in Cape Town and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

In a trial‚ participants are told they may receive a placebo or the experimental drug.

But‚ in an “open label extension trial”‚ a product is given to people who are told it works‚ with no one given a placebo.

Other “open label” trials of HIV prevention products have shown that use of the product improves‚ said Professor Gail Bekker‚ Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation’s deputy director.

“If you tell women it is a drug and it works‚ adherence improves‚” said Bekker‚ who was involved in the initial study.

Women from the previous trials‚ who received the placebo and “got the short end of the stick”‚ will be offered the product too‚ she said.

In the initial two-year study‚ women between 18 and 21 years of age received no protection from the Dapivirine ring because of poor use of the ring‚ disappointing scientists as young women in South Africa are most at risk of HIV infection.

In the extension trial‚ Bekker said researchers would work with the young women to help them use it.

Researchers are currently in discussions with the Medicines Control Council over licensing the ring so it can be made available to all women who want it.