In Cape Town, South Africa, thousands of scientists and researchers are meeting to discuss the latest developments in microbicides. Microbicides can come in many forms, such as gels, creams or suppositories. But their purpose is one and the same, to prevent infection with HIV, the AIDS virus. So far, however, none has been successful.
One of those attending the conference, known as microbicides 2006, is Melissa May, the spokesperson for the Population Council. From Cape Town, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the organization’s efforts on the issue.
“We do a lot of work in a range of different HIV and AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support topics. And we think microbicides are another very important prevention tool in what we hope will be an expanded toolbox to fight HIV and AIDS. It’s not going to be the silver bullet, the magic bullet. It’s a women-initiated product. So it will help women prevent their own HIV infection.”
In many developing countries, women have little say in using protection when having sex. Will microbicides help empower them? May says, “There are two things. First of all, part of the effort surrounding microbicides is the empowerment of women generally. So women can use this and talk to their partners about sex and shared responsibility and how they will use a microbicide. At the same time, continuing to try to persuade their partners to use male condoms. We don’t envision the advice ever being for women to use microbicides alone because condoms are very likely to remain the most reliable prevention tool. But as long as there is expanded dialogue and men and women can talk about sex openly, both will be useful together to prevent the spread of HIV.”
In the past, clinical trials have shown microbicide candidates to be ineffective. The Population Council spokesperson says that’s because preventing HIV was not their primary intent. That’s changed, and a number of candidates are now in stage three trials to test their efficacy. However, it’s still expected to be years before an effective one is put on the market.