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The health related articles on this page are intended more for the general public. Although the author (Njei M.T) is a pharmacist, his approach is not restricted to health professionals. > The Fight Against AIDS Witnesses A Small Setback

1 Feb 2007

Clinical trials on one of the microbicides designed to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus during sexual intercourse have been stopped. Microbicides in this context refers to an array of vaginal and rectal creams, gels, pessaries and suppositories that are formulated to kill microbes and especially the HIV virus when applied to the vagina or rectum before sexual intercourse.


About 1300 women from South Africa, Benin, Uganda and India were participating in the test. The World Health Organization said the cellulose-based drug made by the Canadian company Polydex did not help the women but made them more vulnerable. About 30 of the women had contracted AIDS since the trials began in 2005. “This is a disappointing and unexpected setback in the search for a safe and effective microbicide that can be used by women to protect themselves against HIV infection,” said WHO and UNAids in a joint statement.


Last April more than 1000 delegates from all over the globe attended the 4th international conference on microbicides in Cape town, South Africa. During that conference, Dr. Kim Dickson of the WHO and Prof Helen Rees of the reproductive health and HIV research Unit of Wits University gave positive signals that the first generation of microbicides may soon be available for use in the fight against HIV. “At this point the microbicides research field is feeling that there might well be the possibility of having an effective microbicide in the next few years,” Rees said. This was generally seen as a breakthrough in the fight against a dreaded pandemic that has defied human efforts to subdue it for more than two decades.


Of the five products that were in advanced clinical trials, three are still being tested after Nigeria halted another one. Advanced clinical trial is the final stage that drugs are subjected to before health regulatory authorities can permit them to be commercialized and used on a large scale. Not all hope is lost. It should be noted that setbacks are common feature during the research and development of pharmaceuticals.


Microbicides when they do see the light of the day will be powerful tools especially for women in Africa to fight HIV/AIDS. In some parts of Sub Saharan Africa, two out of three people infected with HIV are women.

Njei Moses Timah