WASHINGTON, D.C.– The wives of migrant workers live on the HIV front line, as their spouses report multiple sexual partners. AIDS claimed the lives of seven million agricultural workers from 1985 to 2010, leaving their wives and children vulnerable to the disease. Women also may resort to “transactional sex to earn money or other commodities,” the United Nations reports.
In certain regions, tradition requires women to marry the brother of their deceased husband. This arrangement led to further spread of the HIV. Though these interventions slowed the virus’ transmission, many women lose access to their husbands’ property. With no “legal rights of inheritance,” women feel compelled to engage in commercial sex. This heightens their risk of contracting HIV-AIDS.
With the UN projecting a 25 percent rise in deaths by 2020, the need for medical intervention grows more urgent.
In the Science Translational Medicine, United States scientists report moving forward on an experimental gel to protect women from the virus. The vaginal gel contains HIV medicine. Experimenting on female monkeys, the scientists applied the gel three hours after infection. The Centers for Disease Control discovered this gel protected five of the six monkeys exposed to HIV in its trial.
The experimental gel differs from others that have been experimented with. This form of el contains an anti-HIV drug designed to stop the virus in later stages of infection. This may allow the gel-drug concoction to be applied after exposure to the virus.
“This is proof of concept that such a topically applied gel, applied post-coitally, might be effective in preventing HIV transmission in humans,” reports Dr. Andrew Freedman of the Cardiff University School of Medicine.
Yet, larger scale, human trials must occur before licensure for widespread use. For instance, further studies must investigate the exact “window of opportunity.” Dr. Charles Dobard, of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Division, wonders: “Is it six, eight, twenty-four hours?”
Much remains unclear on the potential of this gel. At this time, no known microbicide provides full protection against the virus. CDC scientists must address a number of issues before advancing to human treatment.
Others remain optimistic. The clinical director of O’Terrence Higgins Trust, Jason Warriner, reports a gel would be “another small step forward, particularly in countries where high HIV rates and cultural barriers to condom use have created the perfect storm.”
Women in developing countries may lack the political or social capital to advocate for condom use or fidelity. Experts continue to advocate for condoms as the best defense but if this experimental gel survives larger clinical trials, it could protect women worldwide.
Sources: BBC, United Nations