The FDA has put an anti-HIV vaginal gel called VivaGel on the fast track for approval. Women can apply the gel vaginally in the hours before intercourse to prevent HIV and genital herpes. If trials go smoothly, VivaGel may be commercially available as early as 2008, making it the first anti-HIV microbicide on the market.
After plateauing in the 1990s, US HIV infection rates are on the rise again, especially among African-American women. Part of the rising infection rates are due to the fact that women in the US still face pressure from male partners who do not want to wear condoms, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, United Press International reports. Because women can hide microbicide use from their partners, microbicides would provide a way for women to protect themselves “without bowing to male dictates,” said UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS Stephen Lewis in a speech adapted for Ms. magazine.
Once approved in the US, VivaGel could be made available internationally at an affordable price, says the NIH. Rates of infection in developing countries are disproportionately high among women. In South Africa, four times as many women as men under 24 are HIV-positive.
“[W]hen the landscape is so bleak,” said Lewis, “the prospect of a microbicide in five to 10 years is intoxicating.”