A new vaginal gel that can prevent infection from HIV virus could soon be available at a pharmacy near you, if a research conducted in the U.S. is anything to go by.
According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta, USA, the vaginal gel can protect women from contracting HIV even if it’s used three hours after sex. The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
PREVIOUS GELS PRE-EXPOSURE
As the researchers observe, vaginal gels (microbicides) that can protect women against contracting HIV have been developed in the past but the limitation being that the gels are only effective as pre-exposure drugs since they contain entry or reverse transcriptase which only block the early processes involved in HIV infection.
Applying the pre-exposure gels before intercourse has been reported to interfere with sex hence their usage has been limited but the new gel is more ‘sex friendly’ as it can be effectively used after intercourse.
The researchers used a macaque (monkey species) as a sample model to assess the efficacy for the new vaginal gel which contains the anti-HIV drug raltegravir and according to the findings, applying the gel 30 minutes before exposure protected two of three macaques from SHIV, a combination of HIV and a related monkey virus.
The researchers also found that when applied after exposure, five of six macaques treated with the gel three hours after SHIV exposure remained uninfected after 20 virus challenges throughout the 10-week follow-up period.
ALTERNATIVE TO CONDOMS
Devoid of a preventive HIV vaccine at the moment, microbicides offer an alternative to condoms as the most feasible method for primary prevention of HIV.
Microbicides act in different ways to prevent infection with genital pathogens; some provide a physical barrier that keeps HIV and other pathogens from reaching the target cells, others act by enhancing the natural vaginal defense mechanisms by maintaining an acidic pH which protects the vagina, while some kill or disable pathogens by stripping them of their outer covering.
On how this particular post exposure gel works, the researchers explain that approximately six hours after initial infection, the DNA of the virus moves into the DNA of animal cells. Raltegravir blocks this process, and in turn, stops HIV in its tracks.
However, the researchers say they need to improve the gel’s effectiveness before it can be entered into human clinical trials and this can take approximately a period of five years.
WOMEN TO HAVE MORE CONTROL IN SAFE SEX
Women continue to be at more risk of contracting HIV and according to recent statistics, globally, 54 per cent of all adults living with HIV are women while in sub-Saharan Africa, young women make up more than 72 per cent of young people living with HIV.
Currently most available HIV prevention methods are often not viable for many poor women who cannot even access basic contraceptives like in Kenya and most parts of Africa for instance. In addition, a good number of women still face cultural constraints that mandates spousal co-operation in the modes of contraception they can use and some cultures will not even entertain the idea of using a condom despite being in a polygamous marriage or even having extra-marital affairs. The availability of the vaginal gel which can be administered as a post-exposure drug could therefore not only significantly go a long away in empowering women to protect themselves and their partners but also give them more control over protecting themselves.