Kenya to launch new anti-HIV effort that targets women

Sunday May 29 2011

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI, Special Correspondent

KENYA IS set to unveil a new medical compound that block HIV transmission in women and young girls after the successful completion of trials.

Human trials of various products — microbicides — have been completed in Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa. Findings by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) indicate that a microbicide that is 50 per cent effective, given to just 30 per cent of the population will reduce the number of HIV infections in the country by more than half.

A microbicide is a substance that can be incorporated in a lubricant, gel or barrier such as a diaphragm that will stop HIV transmission during sex.

According to a researcher at Kemri Betty Njoroge, microbicide products are formulated for topical administration before intercourse to protect against transmission of HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted infections in women and girls. The product comes in different types — creams, gels and rings designed for vaginal insertion or application.

The primary objective of the study was to assess and compare the safety of the use of the different types of microbicides in healthy, sexually active, HIV-negative women.

Clinical trials

Studies on the effectiveness of the vaginal microbicide were conducted using a daily monitored adherence in healthy HIV-negative women aged between 18 and 40 in Nyanza.

The microbicides clinical trials involved three phases: Phase I/II involved the safety and acceptability of a vaginal ring that contains the ARV drug dapivirine. Participants use either dapivirine ring or placebo ring. The ring was to be replaced once a month, for three months.

“We ensure that there is a daily communication on week days with research centre staff through home visits or drop-off centre in community,” said Dr Njoroge.

If adopted and used effectively by women, microbicides could avert 2.5 million new HIV infections in developing countries

“Microbicides would be the ideal measure for HIV/Aids prevention because they are safe, effective, affordable, odourless, stable, and easy to use. They also have the potential for combinations of drugs to increase effectiveness,” said Dr Njoroge.

The trials of the product aregoing on in Uganda and South Africa. No proven microbicides are in the market yet but Caprisa 004 clinical trial has shown that a microbicide can help protect against HIV.

“Microbicides are especially useful for women unable to insist on their partner using condoms, since microbicides can be used without their partners knowing,” said Dr Njoroge.

Adding that the fastest-growing population with HIV/Aids is of women and young girls most become infected through heterosexual contact.

The World Health Organization report for 2009 indicate that Over 51 percent (15.4 million) of people living with HIV are women and 58 percent of the HIV infections occur through heterosexual sex.

74 percent of young people girls (aged 15-24 years) live with HIV and in Kenya a greater proportion of women 8.4 percent than men 5.4 percent are infected with HIV.

“A Microbicide is not a medicine to cure HIV /Aids but aimed at reducing HIV infections rate among the sexually active women and young girls”, Dr Njoroge said.

For example, the intravaginal ring is designed to stays in place for up to a month.