Two full-scale trials on topical microbicides that were designed to prevent HIV infection during sexual intercourse have been stopped, due to safety reasons. Scientists and women’s rights advocates believe that microbicides, which can be manufactured in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or a sponge, could enable women to have more control over their sexual health. Women, who might not always have the social or economic agency to insist that their partners wear condoms, would be more able to control this form of protection from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
One potential microbicide, which used a cotton base, was being tested on 1,300 women in South Africa, Benin, Uganda, and India, but the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the gel did not help women and actually made them more vulnerable to HIV, BBC reports. Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, the head of the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), said of the gel’s failure, “The closure of these trials is a stark reminder that drug development in general is a difficult and unpredictable process… While the closing of these trials is a profound disappointment for the microbicide field, we cannot let it paralyze us,” BBC and the New York Times report.
According to the New York Times, three other potential microbicides are currently undergoing clinical trials. WHO and other AIDS organizations are hopeful that at least one will prove to be safe and effective.
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