Thandeka Moyo, Health Reporter
A NEW gel designed to prevent HIV that can be applied to the vagina is being tested for mainstream use worldwide.
The gel is designed to prevent three incurable sexually transmitted diseases namely HIV, the human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer and the herpes simplex virus.
Low income countries with the heaviest burden of these diseases like Zimbabwe are set to benefit from the study which may bring an addition to the recommended HIV preventative methods.
An international organisation headquartered in the United States, The Population Council, launched the new biomedical study to test the efficacy of the gel last Saturday.
The new rectal safety study of PC-1005 gel builds on positive results from a recent phase 1 study that looked at vaginal use of the gel. It will be conducted by the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
It will be known as MTN-037.
During the first vaginal study whose results are yet to be launched, women applied the gel on their vaginas once a day during the study for 14 days.
In a statement, Population Council director of biomedical research and pharmaceutical development Mr Tom Zydowsky said the gel PC-1005 gel, also known as MZC gel, contains three key ingredients that provide broad-spectrum antiviral activity.
“Viral STIs such as HIV, HSV, and HPV cause life-threatening illness and create a huge burden on health systems, especially in low-income countries. If proven effective, an MPT gel such as PC-1005 could contribute significantly to efforts to curb these incurable viral STIs,” said Mr Zydowsky.
He said that HSV is an often-painful chronic viral STI that can cause significant reproductive health challenges and increase an individual’s susceptibility to other infections, including HIV.
“HPV increases the risk of HIV acquisition and is the principal global cause of cervical and anal cancer.
“Many people at high risk of acquiring HIV are also at risk for HSV and HPV, and all three infections can be transmitted through either vaginal or anal sex,” Mr Zydowsky added.
According to the Population Council, the gel has MIV-150, a highly potent antiretroviral drug that is effective against HIV.
“The gel also has Zinc acetate, an antiviral compound that protects against HIV and HSV; and Carrageenan, a seaweed-derived compound that is among the most potent anti-HPV agents identified to date,” said Mr Zydowsky.
Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million people are infected with HIV annually, and more than a million people contract STIs every day.
Zimbabwe has the sixth highest HIV prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa which sits at 13, 7 percent.
To date several HIV preventative methods have been recommended for high burdened countries which include the use of condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, pre-exposure prophylaxis, the use of anti-retrovirals and behaviour change.