A gel that can protect women from contracting HIV after unprotected sex may be just one step away, American researchers have said. But local doctors have warned the pubic not to be “excited” by the discovery because the effectiveness of the gel is yet to be proved.
The findings, published in Science Translational Medicine journal early this month, could lead to new ways of fighting HIV.
In the latest research, a US team took a different approach, testing a new HIV treatment in monkeys that has the potential to work after HIV exposure.
The team found that the gel protected five out of six monkeys from an animal-human laboratory strain of HIV when applied shortly before or three hours after exposure to the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, which led the study, says that this is "proof of concept" in an animal model.
Dr Charles Dobard, of the division of HIV/Aids prevention said: "It's a promising after-sex vaginal gel to prevent HIV infection.
"Studies still need to be done to look at the window [of opportunity] - is it six, eight, 24 hours?" he added.
Local experts doubt
Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the head of HIV Division at RBC hailed the move as an important milestone in the fight against HIV/Aids, but warned against excitement about the development.
“This test, just like most of the previous ones has gaps. The fact that one monkey got infected shows that the gel still has weaknesses,” he said. He said that more tests must be carried out on humans to confirm efficacy of the gel.
“For now I can’t say this gel is a perfect replacement for condoms, because it is clear that it is not a 100 per cent safe.”
Nsanzimana noted that similar studies on the gel have been met with obstacles.
“Recent research shows that this gel has dangerous side effects, for instance it kills good microbes (germs) found in the body of the user, therefore lowering their immunity against other diseases in the long run.”
He added that another recent study indicated that too much use the microbicide (gel) by HIV infected persons could cause resistance antiretroviral therapy.
“Even if the gel was found to be 100% effective, it would be difficult for the poor to access, since its estimated to cost over $100 per amount enough for one sexual act. It requires more years of patient trials, if the effectiveness of this gel will ever be measured,” he added.
Evelyne Kestelyn, the director of Rinda Ubuzima, a local NGO carrying out clinical trials on microbicides for HIV prevention, echoed a similar message. She said that there is need to carry out large clinical trials on humans before a definitive conclusion can be made and a safe product can be marketed.
“The report is an important step in the right direction, but caution is advised in interpreting these results. Although we need new HIV prevention methods, especially for women, currently no effective microbicide is on the market. So condom use is still the best protection” she noted.