Wednesday, March 10, 2010

happy national women and girls HIV/AIDS awareness day!

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is also about the time of year that I provide some updates on Microbicides. If you haven't heard of the term, microbicides are gels, foams, rings, or any thing that releases substances over time that provide protection against HIV infection. These would be particularly useful for women who are not able or empowered to negotiate condom use with their partner.

And I've been trying to build awareness of microbicides for a while now because I really feel that this is THE way for women to protect themselves from HIV, especially in the developing world. There is a lot of hope and research dollars riding on microbicide development especially because of the increasing rates of HIV among women everywhere. It seems that simply by being married you are at risk of infection.

Much of the new research out there is focusing on the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) as a means to prevent HIV. This involves the use of AIDS treatment drugs (ARTs) as an HIV infection prevention technique. Studies in Africa are currently underway in sex workers. According to one of the leading HIV researchers in the world, this seems to be the new trend in HIV prevention.

In last month's Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (yeah, I know you're sorry you missed it), Dr. John Moore (leading researcher mentioned above) discussed his on-going study on the use of the drug maraviroc (brand name: Selzentry) as a PEP. Maraviroc is a CCR5 inhibitor, a new class of drugs which is not currently being used in Africa. Because it is not being used in Africa, there is less risk of developing resistance (in clinical trial participants). Apparently, by grinding up the drug and applying it to lab monkeys, this prevented infection for up to 4 hours. Moore stated that the ideal use of this drug would be to create a vaginal ring that releases small amounts of Maraviroc at a time to prevent infection for longer periods of time.

Quick HIV lesson:
There are many strains of HIV. The virus itself evolves faster than any other virus in the world. It can quickly adapt to its environment and become resistant to treatment, particularly when treatment medications are not taken as often as they should be.

AIDS drugs work by preventing HIV replication. The replication involves various steps and certain AIDS drugs prevent/inhibit the steps in the process. This is why patients take many AIDS drugs--each drug they take inhibits a particular replication step, being attaching itself to the host cell or by preventing the replication of the virus' genetic material, etc.
image courtesy of The Lancet
HIV is the small spiky circle with the triangle inside
To be honest, there has been much disappointment in microbicide development over the years, with promising microbicides not making it past the human trial stage for various reasons. However, I really hope that Moore has found the formula. Only time will tell.

Unfortunately, women around the world do not have much time. God speed, microbicide developers!

There are National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day events happening today and tomorrow all over the place. To find an event near you, click here.

Most importantly, if you don't know your HIV status or you think you might've exposed yourself to HIV, please get tested! Every 35 minutes, a woman in the US tests positive for HIV.  To find a place to get tested, click here. Tests are QUICK and CONFIDENTIAL.


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