Cervical barriers are used as physical or chemical substances that prevent pregnancy and reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
Most people primarily think of cervical barriers as only diaphragms and cervical caps, but a broader definition of this would involve the use of female and male condoms.
Sabiti Stephen, a medical student working with Rwanda-Denmark Reproductive Health Project managed by the Medical Students Association, says that cervical barriers are used to prevent pregnancy and reduce the spread of STIs.
Sabiti says that commonly used condoms are spongy and contain microbicides as their chemical component.
Condoms, however, do not contain hormonal contraceptives and their prevention of pregnancy act strictly on the basis of being a barrier for spermatozoid entrance.
Reproductive health study is important in advocating for greater attention and investment in multiple methods to meet the needs of women and girls as part of a comprehensive global response to the HIV pandemic.
Sabiti explains that research on diaphragm usage as female condom has not been justified with its role on the HIV prevention.
But the male condoms remain the only proven barrier method for HIV prevention.
According to Sabiti, research is being focused on cervical barriers because the HIV pandemic is affecting women and girls in increasing numbers.
Based on recent scientific research, young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men in this age group.
These women make up approximately three-quarters of young people who are HIV-positive in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gender inequities prevent many women from being able to protect themselves from infection.
Violence, coercion, and economic dependency render millions of women unable to negotiate condom use or to abandon partners who put them at risk.
Sabiti highlights the renewed interest in cervical barrier methods results, in part, from the new evidence about the role that the cervix may play in HIV or STI transmission.
Today, condom use is the only method proven to reduce the risk of HIV/STI infection through sex.
However, negotiating condom use remains difficult for some people, and scientists are researching potential alternatives to increase prevention options particularly for women.
The biological component of the cervix Sabiti says the cervix is the lower opening of the uterus and the gateway to the uterus and the rest of the upper genital tract.
It is compromised of three main areas: the endocervix (the inside area found around the opening to the uterus), the transformation zone, and the ectocervix (or the outer edge of the cervix) that people commonly term as the vagina.
The transformation zone is the area between the ectocervix and endocervix where columnar epithelial cells are replaced by squamous epithelial cells, thus enlarging the ectocervix.
This transformation happens rapidly during puberty.
The columnar epithelial cells of the endocervix appear to be particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydial and gonococcal infections are most commonly seen in these cells.
The transformation zone is the region most vulnerable to dysplasia (precancerous changes), and new research seems to indicate that receptors for HIV are concentrated there as well.