HARARE - An extensive study undertaken by Follow-on African Consortium for Tenofovir Studies (Facts) has shown that a vaginal gel believed to reduce HIV infections among women is ineffective.
The study found no evidence that directly links use of the gel to reduced infection rates after 123 participants of the study became infected with the virus.
While confirming the findings of a similar 2013 study which included Zimbabwe, the study termed Facts 001 also refutes the findings of another identical 2010 research by South Africa which found the vaginal gel 39 percent effective in reducing HIV infection among women.
“Overall, out of 2 059 enrolled participants, a total of 123 HIV infections occurred, with 61 new HIV infections in the group assigned to tenofovir gel and 62 in the group assigned to placebo. The HIV incidence was 4 percent in both groups, that is four out of 100 women acquired HIV per year,” reads the study findings.
After realising that women are more vulnerable to HIV than men, several studies were launched to find instruments that women can use to protect themselves against the virus.
The results of the study have killed remaining hopes that the gel could be an answer to
reducing the vulnerability of women to HIV.
Professor Helen Rees, Facts protocol chair and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in Johannesburg said, just like with earlier studies, adherence was a major stumbling block.
“Interviews with participants throughout the study taught us that HIV prevention tools for women must be convenient and take account the complex social and economic realities of their lives,” said Rees
She added, “A product that is applied around the time of sex may be suitable for some
women, but it did not meet the needs of the majority in our study, most of whom were young, single and lived with their parents.
“Methods that are easier for women to incorporate into their lives are likely to be more effective.”
Senior Zimbabwean scientist, Mike Chirenje, who also led the earlier study involving Zimbabwe, recently, said researchers remain dedicated to finding ways of empowering women to beat HIV.
“We remain committed to finding ways that women can protect themselves against HIV and are hopeful that methods that are less dependent on adherence, such as the monthly dapivirine vaginal ring we are currently evaluating, will help make a difference,” said Chirenje.