Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two new studies could help AIDS prevention efforts

Since there are currently only enough drugs to treat a third of all people with HIV and money to provide the drugs is unlikely to increase, more AIDS prevention efforts must take place. Two more studies that were released to coincide with the International AIDS Conference might make prevention easier for governments and NGOs.

First, a study has found that using a vaginal gel that has the same active ingredients as anti-retroviral drugs helps prevent women from getting HIV. Another study shows that cash transfer programs help young women say no to sex.

From this New York Times piece that we found at Blue Ridge Now, health writer Celia Dugger explains the new studies.

Women who used a vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication widely used to treat AIDS, tenofovir, were 39 percent less likely over all to contract H.I.V. than those who used a placebo. Those who used the gel most regularly reduced their chances of infection 54 percent, according to a two-and-a-half year study of 889 women by Caprisa, a Durban-based AIDS research center.

Broader trials are needed to confirm the results, and it will most likely be years before the product is publicly available, but if produced on a large scale the gel would cost less than 25 cents per application, the lead investigators estimated.

Because the trial was relatively small and the gel was nowhere close to 100 percent effective, AIDS scientists and public health officials wanted to see another trial get similar results before they undertook the large fund-raising and public education efforts that would be needed to make billions of doses of the gel, as well as the applicators, which are more expensive, and then to persuade women to use them and governments of poor countries to adopt them.

Dr. Bruce Walker, a Harvard Medical School professor who was not involved in the study, said a cheer erupted when researchers unveiled their findings to a small group of scientists last month in Durban.

“This is the first time that there’s been a tool that women can use to protect themselves from becoming infected,” he said. “It’s a game changer.”

In another piece of progress against AIDS, a separate, large study in Malawi sponsored by the World Bank, and made public on Sunday, found that if poor schoolgirls and their families received small monthly cash payments, the girls had sex later, less often and with fewer partners.

A year and a half after the program started, the girls were less than half as likely to be infected with the AIDS or herpes viruses than were girls whose families got no payments. The likelihood that the girls would agree to sex in return for gifts and cash declined as the size of the payments from the program rose, suggesting the central role of extreme poverty in sexual choices.

“Maybe we can combine these behavioral and biomedical interventions,” said Dr. Tim Farley, a scientist with the World Health Organization involved in H.I.V. prevention research. “We need to pursue both avenues.”

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