During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.
In recent years, the global community has intensified its focus on women’s health and rights. This reflects a universal recognition that women and girls are fundamental to the health and well-being of societies worldwide — and that we still have significant challenges to overcome before reaching essential development goals.
HIV and maternal mortaility, and their frequent intersection, are among the greatest obstacles to women’s health and development. Together, they consisitute the two leading causes of death among women of reproductive age.
Women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS due to a combination of biology, gender inequality and sociocultural norms. In sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, young women are twice as likely to become infected with HIV as young men.
At the same time, a lack of access to modern contraceptives in developing countries remains a major contributor to global maternal deaths. An estimated 222 million women worldwide want to delay or avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Contraceptives allow women to space and limit their pregnancies, leading to better health, education and economic outcomes for women and families.
Women in areas with high rates of HIV often have the greatest unmet need for contraception. New multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs) now being developed address these dual risks, and may give women tools they can use to protect their health and better their lives.
While existing MPTs such as male and female condoms are extremely effective when they can be used, many women cannot negotiate condom use. New MPTs in development — including vaginal gels, long-acting rings and new types of barrier devices — could expand options for discreet, female-initiated prevention methods. In addition, because women’s perceived risk of HIV is low compared to their perceived risk for pregnancy, and given potential stigma around receiving HIV services, combined technologies may be widely used. As such, new MPTs may also help promote increased integration in health care delivery.
With leadership and support from USAID, the International Partnership for Microbicides is applying its experience in HIV prevention to the development of a 60-day MPT vaginal ring that would offer protection against HIV and unintended pregnancy. Now in preclinical stages, the ring would deliver an antiretroviral drug called dapivirine along with the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel. Clinical studies are planned for 2014.
The contraceptive field has long taught us that no single product will address women’s unique needs and preferences. While some women may prefer to use a gel around the time of sex, others may find that a longer-acting ring is more convenient and encourages consistent use. USAID is working on a number of new technologies to expand contraceptive options for women and couples across the globe. Learn more about these new contraceptives and multipurpose prevention technologies under development in this slideshow.
While at least several years away, new integrated solutions like these could result in significant health gains for women by reducing rates of HIV transmission, STIs, and maternal and newborn death associated with unintended pregnancies. As a result, MPTs could help advance progress on multiple development goals related to health, poverty and gender equality — and give women and girls a chance to reach their full potential.
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