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Microbicide Does Not Reduce Women’s Risk Of HIV Infection, Study Shows

Pro 2000, a vaginal microbicide gel designed to reduce women’s risk of HIV infection, showed “no evidence that it reduces the risk of HIV infection,” according to the results of a series of clinical trials in Africa, Britain’s Medical Research Council (MRC) said on Monday, Reuters reports. “The MRC trial, which took place between September 2005 and September 2009, involved 9,385 women and was carried out by the Microbicides Development Programme (MDP), a not-for-profit partnership of 16 African and European research institutions,” the news service writes. “It found that the risk of HIV infection in women who were given PRO 2000 gel was not significantly different than in women supplied with a placebo gel.” To date, no microbicide has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection (Kelland, 12/14).

Study participants received “free condoms, counselling for ‘safer sex negotiation’ and sexual health advice,” in addition to the gel, London’s Times reports (Lister, 12/14). According to BBC, “A previous, smaller trial suggested PRO 2000 could reduce the risk of HIV infection by 30%” (12/14).

“All women in the study who became HIV positive were provided counselling and were referred for ongoing psychosocial care,” SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports. “Women were also invited to remain in contact with sites for long-term care and monitoring of their HIV infections, and referrals were made to local health service providers for ongoing care. The researchers believe that in spite of the disappointing results, the trial provided an opportunity to deliver HIV-prevention education to thousands of women at risk of HIV,” according to the article (12/14).

Sheena McCormack, the chief investigator from the MRC, said of the results, “It is a clear answer, and in that respect it shows a clear path forward. We need to find a better, more radical approach to preventing infection,” the Times writes. According to the newspaper, “This year the [British] Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed a grant of more than £90 million to support ten new clinical trials investigating more sophisticated ‘second generation’ gels, such as those made with specific antiretroviral drugs, over the next five years” (12/14).

“Scientists have turned their attention to the possibility of adapting anti-retroviral drugs given to stop HIV becoming AIDS,” the Guardian reports. “One of the possibilities is a gel form of Tenofovir, a drug that could also be taken daily in tablet form to prevent HIV infection. But such gels or tablets would have to be given out through clinics with supervision, and there are fears that the virus could become resistant to them” (Boseley, 12/14).