Exploring the Vaginal ring as a HIV Prevention Tool in Africa
Following efforts to discover effective and comfortable prevention methods for HIV, a group of medical researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) in the US have announced that the experimental vaginal ring for HIV prevention does not affect the physical act of sex and helps prevent new infection of HIV following consistent use
This was disclosed in a press release at the ongoing HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) meeting in Chicago with the theme: Partnering for Prevention. This finding is among several experiences gleaned about experiences of women who used the ring during the ASPIRE study, also known as MTN-020 which was conducted in select African countries.
According to a UNIADS report, an estimated 1.9 million adults have been infected with HIVevery year for the past five years and among this number, women are most affected. This underscores another reason why the vaginal ring could be just the HIV prevention method needed at this point to tackle the spread of the virus.
The vaginal ring which is inserted monthly for continuous wear releases Dapirivine – a highly potent antiretroviral (ARV) drug, and could safely reduce HIV with continuous use. There have been concerns as to whether the ring is comfortable during sex or if disclosing or concealing it’s use affected women’s adherence to the product.
“Sub-Saharan African women have a broad range of sexual experiences and relationship dynamics, and we are learning more about how these diverse behaviors and circumstances influence the use of the ring,” said Dr. Palance-Phillips, director of the Network trials at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in Johannesburg.
The research is coming at a point when most women living with HIV in Africa desire a prevention method which will be discreet and does not draw attention or stigma to them from family and friends as did previous prevention methods. Also, African women look forward to safely having sex with their partners without fear of being infected or re-infected and the recurrent argument over the use of condom.
According to one of the study participants, she said the vaginal ring made her feel she was in control of her body and didn’t have to explain to argue with her partner over using a condom or taking Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
“It made me feel very comfortable and the best part is that my partner didn’t even notice I was wearing the ring”, she says.
This testament provides insight as to the many benefits of the vagina ring with some researchers hoping to combine the vaginal ring with Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) so that both pregnancy and HIV are both prevented using one ring for a duration of time.
According to Mark Aurigemma, a senior public health communication and advocacy expert, the field of HIV medical research has come a long way and now more than ever, scientists are focusing on discovering new methods of prevention as lasting cure for the virus which has claimed millions of lives.
With global efforts geared towards discovering new HIV prevention methods, it is hoped that research presentations at the conference will highlight advances and challenges in every field of prevention, including new and emerging forms of prevention that has the potential to transform the global epidemic.
With the conference getting into full speed, it is hoped that participants will work together to identify solutions and collaborations around discovering new HIV prevention methods and implementing the sustainable development goals(SDGs) especially for key affected population so that no one is left behind in bringing a lasting cure to end HIV.
About the Author
Nnamdi Eseme lives in Nigeria. He is the Communications Officer for Active Voices, a Women Deliver Young Leader and member of the Key Correspondents network which focuses on marginalised groups affected by HIV, to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. Nnamdi tweets @Eseme01