Results from a clinical trial released earlier this year by the Microbicides Trial Network (MTN) showed that PRO 2000 vaginal gel showed promise with a 30% HIV prevention rate.
MDP is currently running a phase III trial on Pro2000 involving more than 9389 women and aims to release the results by the end of the year.
Another study underway is the MTN-001 trial, an adherence and drug absorption study. It will determine whether antiretrovirals (ARVs) can be used effectively for HIV prevention in the form of a applicator gel or a pill that can be taken orally once a day ‘ also known as PrEP.
The MTN-001study is investigating issues that will inform a follow-up study by the Vaginal and Oral intervention to Control the Epidemic (VOICE).
VOICE, whose trials are set to begin in Zimbabwe in August will address whether women will be more comfortable applying a gel every day or taking a pill daily.
Numerous other VOICE trials will be initiated in Lusaka, Zambia and many other sites in South Africa by the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and other institutions.
Dr Sharon Hillier, principal investigator for the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) said they embarked on the study for a vaginal gel because women account for 60% of HIV infections across the globe.
She said the women who participated in the PRO 2000 research project reported preferring using the gel. However, developing a gel and a pill would give women more options as well as empower them to actively make decisions about their health.
‘Women taking part in the trials reported enjoying using PRO 2000 gel so much that they didn’t want to be taken off it after the trial’, she said.
But there is a lot of uncertainty on whether developing countries will be able to afford providing PrEP to patients not yet infected when they are currently struggling to provide treatment to those already infected.
Dr FranÃ§ois Venter, President of the Southern African Clinicians Society and Chairman of the 2011 SA AIDS Conference, said though the research shows promise there are numerous issues that need to be addressed.
He identified the need to look into how the programme is going to incorporated into other prevention programmes, and how the general public might be convinced to use gels as well as the accessibility of the products.
‘South Africa has one of the greatest HIV prevalence rates in the world and only a fragment of people who should be on ART have access to drugs’, he said.