Terri Wilder, co-chair of the Campaign for Microbicides said that with sufficient human and scientific resources, a microbicidal product could be available to women within five years.
“However, large pharmaceutical companies are simply not interested in investing in
microbicide development. They are skeptical about whether microbicides would be profitable after the costs of research and marketing are met because such products would have to be inexpensive to be made available globally.”
She said the companies also raised concern over issues of liability, since microbicides would promise to offer some protection against life-threatening illness.
Microbicides are substances that could substantially reduce the transmission of HIV and other STDs when used in the vagina or rectum.
Microbicides could come in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or in the form of a sponge or vaginal ring.
They would provide an alternative method of disease protection for women and
couples who, for a variety of reasons, cannot use condoms to prevent HIV/STD transmission.
Wilder pointed out that although microbicides would probably never be as effective as condoms in preventing infection, women who are seldom or never able to use condoms
could lower their overall risk of infection by using a microbicide.
Scientists and researchers at a recent infectious diseases congress in Stellenbosch agreed that a microbicide would only be developed by 2007, soonest.
Dr Helen Rees of the Reproductive Health Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital told the gathering that big agencies saw no potential of great profit in the product.
“Academics (researchers) are putting their hearts and souls into the research for microbicides,” she said.
A recent survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated that 21 million American women were interested in a microbicidal product.
In other acceptability studies conducted in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and South Africa, both women and men expressed willingness to use microbicides.
Wilder said that barely more than one percent of the budget for HIV/AIDS-related research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States was being spent on microbicide research.
“Public health officials and members of Congress and Senate (in the US) need to wake
up and take notice. There are a number of promising microbicides in development, and we have everything we need to bring a microbicide to market within five years except the money,” Wilder said.
She said Congress could remedy that by passing the Microbicides Development Act. It would make adequate federal research funds available to develop topical microbicides efficiently, without delays in the research pipeline.
Women are at greater risk of acquiring STDs than men and in most cases, and the consequences of contracting STDs include infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and cervical cancer, are more serious and permanent for women.
Today, women are the fastest-growing population with HIV/AIDS, and most become infected through heterosexual contact. ‘ Health-e News Service