By Lee Claypool, USAID Biologist
Microbicide. That’s kind of a funny-sounding — perhaps even scary — word for something pretty powerful. It certainly has a scientific “ring” to it, and that tends to turn people off. It’s complicated, it’s detailed, and it’s… boring, right?
If you think something that can empower women, save lives, and possibly change the course of history is boring, then yes. Here at USAID, we actually think it’s pretty exciting. For nearly 50 years, we’ve been investing in science, research, and innovation to enable game-changing interventions and breakthroughs to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods. This year, such an investment provided the first-ever proof that a microbicide, Tenofovir 1% vaginal gel, can safely and effectively protect women from HIV transmission.
An estimated 33.3 million people are living with HIV globally. Nearly 23 million of these individuals, 60 percent of whom are women, live in sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries, women lack the power to negotiate the use of prevention tools and approaches to protect themselves from exposure to HIV through conventional methods such as condom use, partner reduction, and negotiating delay of sexual debut.
The results of the USAID and South African-supported Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) 004 trial are encouraging, and provide hope that a new method that will enable women to have greater control over HIV prevention will soon be available.
The next steps are to confirm these results in further studies; once this happens we could have on our hands a unique HIV prevention tool for women who are not able to negotiate other HIV prevention methods with their male partners. Once this new technology is ready, USAID will work with all our partners to make it available to vulnerable women and girls as soon as possible.
But, since everyone is different, we know that we need a variety of HIV prevention methods to choose from. For just this reason, other next-generation ARV-based product leads are in the pipeline and will be tested clinically if they continue to show good results in preclinical testing. We will continue to support clinical studies of promising products.
We are thrilled our Administrator thinks microbicide is an exciting word as well. Just two weeks ago he convened a meeting to determine the next steps following the success of CAPRISA. There will also be an additional meeting with technical experts in the field to discuss how to aggressively roll out microbicide treatments to those most in need.
Microbicide: Does one word say it all? Perhaps not. Is the word off-putting? Even a little too scientific? Perhaps. We just see it as the future of HIV prevention.
Want to know more about USAID-supported innovation and breakthroughs for global health? Stay tuned to www.usaid.gov and the IMPACT blog! We’ll be posting updates to highlight a variety of new research findings over the next several weeks as we roll out the 2010 Health Research Report to Congress.