Medical breakthrough in AIDS prevention

Researchers are reporting a
breakthrough against AIDS. A vaginal gel containing an AIDS drug cut in half a
woman’s chances of getting HIV from an infected partner.

The results need to be confirmed,
and scientists disagree about whether this amount of protection is enough to
justify using the gel now. But it is the first hope of protection for women if
their partners refuse to use condoms.

Results of the South African study
are being presented at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug
tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection by 50 per cent after one year of use
and 39 per cent after 2 1/2 years, compared to a gel that contained no medicine.

In the study, women used the gel
only 60 per cent of the time; those who used it more often had higher rates of
protection, and researchers said this is the key to improving effectiveness,
not changing the gel.

The gel also cut in half the
chances of getting HSV-2, the herpes virus that causes genital warts.

Even partial protection is a huge
victory that could be a boon not just in poor countries but for couples
anywhere when one partner has the AIDS virus and the other does not, said Dr.
Salim Abdool Karim, the South African researcher who led the study. In the
U.S., nearly a third of new infections each year are among heterosexuals, he

The gel is in limited supply.

Of the 889 heterosexual women in the
test group, half were given the microbicide and the others, a dummy gel.

At the study’s end, there were 38
HIV infections among the microbicide group versus 60 in the others.