August 20, 2004

LA COLUMNA VERTEBRAL
El Soporte Informativo Para Millones de Hispanos
Por Beverly Lyles

Microbicides are Coming...Barrier Contraception of a Revolutionary Kind

In the fight to win the war on HIV-AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancies, a new revolutionary contraceptive tool is on the horizon. It is called the Microbicide and every woman should know about it.

Microbicides are products, such as gels, creams, or other formulations, designed to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, when applied vaginally or rectally before intercourse. While no Microbicides are currently approved, a number of them are being tested.

There are different ways in which Microbicides act to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Some provide a physical barrier that blocks HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases from entering key cells of the reproductive system. Another class of Microbicides will act by helping maintain an acidic pH - a natural vaginal defense mechanism that disables microorganisms by stripping them of their outer layer. Yet another class of these products acts by preventing the virus from replicating itself after it enters the cell.

In addition to unplanned pregnancies, women are also generally at greater risk than men of contracting sexually transmitted infections. Despite the knowledge of successful STD’S and HIV prevention strategies - condom use, reduction in the number of sexual partners, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections - HIV continues to spread at an alarming rate, especially among Hispanic women in the U.S.

Let’s face it; currently available HIV prevention techniques often simply are not feasible for many women because they simply have no power to insure that their mates use a condom during sexual intercourse. That is their awful reality.

The availability of Microbicides would greatly empower women to protect themselves, and to thereby, change their realities. Unlike condoms, Microbicides are a potential preventive option that women can easily control, and do not require the cooperation, consent, or even knowledge of the partner. Women simply insert the cream or gel prior to intercourse.

According to the World Health Organization, distribution of Microbicides will be influenced to a large extent by whether they are available for sale by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). If an effective Microbicide becomes available for use on the market as an OTC it can use the same distribution system as condoms. Their use can be advocated for in HIV/AIDS, STI, maternity and family planning clinics, and in youth or adolescent health care.

Microbicides could have a substantial impact against the global HIV epidemic if it were used by a significant number of women. A recent cost-benefit analysis conducted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates that the introduction in 73 lower-income countries of a microbicide would avert approximately 6 million HIV infections over 3 years in men, women and children. This translates to an astounding 3.2 billion US dollars.

Scientists are currently testing around 60 substances, but no safe and effective microbicide is currently available to the public. But if one of these leads proves successful, and enough research money is invested, a Microbicide could be available in five to seven years.

Currently, however, a lack of funding is causing major delays. Investment in Microbicide research and development must expand dramatically if the promise of Microbicides is to be realized.

And as women, this is where we enter.

Women must lead the fight for Microbicides to be made available to the public as soon as possible. Call or write your local Congressperson, tell them it is essential that an effective, safe, affordable, and accessible microbicide be brought to the market as soon as possible in order to save tens of thousands of American women’s lives.

To find out more about reproductive health resources call your Help Line toll-free and confidential at 1-800-473-3003.

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