The HIV epidemic, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, continues unabated. In 2007 approximately 2.7 million people became infected. Over 80% of current HIV transmissions are through heterosexual intercourse with women being more vulnerable due to transmission dynamics, socio-economic factors, and limited control over safer sexual practices.
Condoms offer excellent protection against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections if used correctly and consistently. However in many regions of the world where HIV is a major threat, condoms are rarely used, despite health education efforts – one reason being the wish to have children. In the future, a vaccine against HIV may offer the best protection of all but it is likely to be many years before an effective vaccine is available.
In the meantime, 33 million men, women and children worldwide were living with HIV as of 2007. Women are the fastest-growing population with HIV/AIDS and most become infected through heterosexual contact. Not only are women more susceptible to infection, but in many countries and cultures around the world, women are powerless to insist upon use of condoms. The development of a safe and effective prevention method initiated by women might save millions of lives.
Microbicides are experimental, candidate products which would be used vaginally or rectally to reduce the risk of HIV infection. The candidate microbicide being tested by MDP is a vaginal gel called PRO 2000. The Phase III trial, MDP 301, is evaluating the safety and effectiveness of PRO 2000 for reducing the risk of HIV infection in women.
If proven safe and effective, vaginal microbicides will ideally be used in addition to, not instead of, condoms, and will complement other HIV prevention strategies such as behaviour change, abstinence, and other prophylaxis methods. For the first time, women would have a risk-reduction method which they themselves could initiate.
For more information about microbicides and microbicide research and development visit:
- The Alliance for Microbicide Development: Founded in 1998, the Alliance for Microbicide Development is a non-profit, multidisciplinary, multisectoral organization that employs monitoring, research, communication, convening, and evidence-based advocacy to speed development of microbicides to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
- The Global Campaign for Microbicides: GCM is a diverse network of advocates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to expand HIV prevention options and encourage ethical research that involves civil society.
- The Microbicides Media and Communications Initiative (MMCI): A unique multi-partner collaboration housed at the Global Campaign for Microbicides designed to help the wider microbicide field anticipate and respond proactively to the communication challenges posed by the conduct of large scale effectiveness trials in Africa and other resource-limited settings.
- The International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) is a non-profit, product development partnership working to accelerate the development and availability of vaginal microbicides to help women in developing countries protect themselves from HIV. IPM is committed to providing women with an affordable and self-initiated HIV-prevention strategy to reduce new infections globally.
- The Microbicides Development Programme (MDP) is a not-for-profit, African-European partnership, which was established to develop vaginal microbicides to reduce the risk of HIV infection in women. It was launched in 2000 to prepare for a large scale HIV prevention field trial following earlier research that had identified two promising candidates. MDP conducts clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of potential microbicides. It also carries out research in basic science, models the potential impact of microbicides and explores factors surrounding their acceptability.