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AIDS Experts Call For Accelerating Development of Microbicide to Prevent HIV Transmission

  • Jessica Berman

At the 16th International AIDS conference in Toronto, advocates for using microbicide have laid out a plan to accelerate development of what's being hailed as an achievable and promising HIV prevention technology.

A microbicide is a topical ointment or cream that a woman can use discretely prior to sexual intercourse to keep from contracting the AIDS virus from her male partner.

The interest in microbicides has taken a back seat to vaccines until recently. While an AIDS vaccine is still highly sought because of the huge impact it could make in stemming the tide of new infections, vaccine research has moved at a snail's pace.

In contrast, advocates say a microbicide is a very achievable technology.

Salim Abdool Karim, the Director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa, says projections show that even a modestly effective microbicide could make an enormous difference.

"If we used a microbicide that was 33 percent efficacious, and that was used by 60 percent of the women in some of the most effected countries, we would be able to avert several million infections over the next several years," he said.

In addition to finding a microbicide that kills the AIDS virus on contact, experts say the cream or gel must be of the right consistency to work and appeal to women.

The Gates Foundation is spending $124 million on microbicide development. Microbicide proponents hope to raise a budget of $280 million a year for the next five years to reach their goal.