HIV update: Studies find HIV prevention in women

(Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)A nurse tests a blood sample during a free HIV test at a blood tests party, part of a campaign to prevent HIV infection

The risk of HIV in women over 21 years old may dramatically be reduced with the use of a vaginal ring.

Two studies presented in February demonstrated the possible effects of using this vaginal ring as a way to transmit medication that has the potential to prevent the transmission of HIV.

The first study, which is now published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that women over 21 years old who were given this kind of ring had a 27 percent lower incidence of getting the disease than those who were given a placebo ring without any medication. The study looked at 2,600 women from across four countries — Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe — for about two years.

In another recent study presented late last month at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections meeting in Boston, the results are almost the same with the first one. The vaginal ring showed no effect on women below 21 years old. On the other hand, of the 2,000 women from South Africa and Uganda participated in the research who are 21 years in age, HIV cases dropped by 37 percent.

"A prevention tool like a ring could be used discreetly, a woman would have control over it, and it could allow her to keep herself safe from HIV without having to ask a male partner to take on prevention strategies," University of Washington professor Jared Baeten told BuzzFeed News.

"There is absolute reason to celebrate. But 27 percent is a lower number than any of us would like to see," Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a global HIV-prevention advocacy group, added.

The ring was able to prevent the transmission of HIV by releasing the chemical dapivirine, which is said to have the ability to interfere HIV replication. This could be a potential alternative to current preventive HIV measures, which have now been proven to be ineffective.

Recent studies have shown that pills, vaginal gels and other measures have not provided any decrease in HIV rates in South Africa, Uganda, and other sub-Saharan countries. However, researchers theorized that adherence to these preventive methods is one of the problems why they don't work.

As with other medications, adherence is key to the effectiveness of any given HIV preventive measure.

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