HIV prevention was dealt another blow yesterday with the announcement that a vaginal gel based on seaweed had no affect on blocking HIV transmission.

Trials of the microbicide called Carraguard involved some 6 000 South African women in Durban, Cape Town and Tshwane.

While the gel was found to be safe for vaginal use for up to two years, ‘€œit was not effective for HIV prevention,’€ the US-based Population Council announced.

While the council said it was disappointed that the gel showed no effect on HIV, it was already working on a new candidate microbicide that would use Carraguard as a base for an antiretroviral drug called MIV150.

However, the Popultion Council said that there had been a number of positive spin-offs for those who had taken part in the trial, primarily that the rate of condom used had doubled and the rate of sexually transmitted infections had plummeted.

This they ascribed to HIV/AIDS education and to regular medical check-ups.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was briefed on the results of the trial yesterday.

“The continued inability of these products to deliver the desired outcomes poses a serious challenge. While there is an urgent need for innovation, how do we maintain the public confidence in the possibility for success amid the many setbacks affecting HIV prevention research,” said Tshabalala-Msimang.

The failure of the Carraguard follows the recent failure of another microbicide called cellulose sulphate. This trial was suspended after more women in the trial arm than the   control group became HIV positive.

The development of microbicides is now focused on so-called third generation microbicides containing antiretroviral medication.

The Centre for AIDS Policy and Research in SA (Caprisa) is currently preparing for the trial of a microbicide containing tenofivir.’€”Health-e News Service.