A small silicone ring, known as the dapivirine ring, may protect as many as 75 percent of women using it from contracting HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. The ring is inserted into the vagina and infused with a special antiviral drug, called dapivirine. Researchers say the findings are especially important in countries where there is a cultural taboo for women refusing sex, even with their husbands, and may not have a say in whether or not he wears a condom.
Elizabeth Brown, one of the study’s lead investigators, said:
“Adherence to HIV prevention strategies is not always perfect, and we knew that not all women used the ring consistently, so we developed an analysis to explore the degree of HIV protection that was associated with more consistent use. Across all analyses we saw high adherence was associated with significantly better HIV protection.”
The third phase of the research study was done in sub-Saharan Africa, involving over 2,600 women between the ages of 18 and 45 from Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Some women were given a placebo ring, whilst others were given a ring with the medication.
Researchers were able to use blood tests to gauge how regularly the women were using the ring.
Overall, for women who used the ring even imperfectly, the risk of catching HIV went down by 27 percent. For women who were found to be using the ring correctly, the risk was cut by 50 percent, and in some cases as much as 75 percent.
However, scientists point out that imperfect use may not always be the culprit. Instead, it was recently found in a study that women with an overgrowth of Prevotella bivia in their vaginas are about 15 times more likely than their counterparts to contract AIDS, despite using the ring.
Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, chief executive officer of the International Partnership for Microbicides, which developed the ring, said:
“We are encouraged by these new analyses, which further support that the dapivirine ring could be an important option for women who urgently need new tools to protect themselves from HIV.”
Next, the team will conduct a new study, which will be known as the HOPE trial. Within this study, they will attempt to pinpoint why the ring has worked so well for some women, but not as well for others. Because unprotected heterosexual sex is a major player in the HIV epidemic, they feel this is a crucial time to help empower women to protect themselves.
“While IPM seeks regulatory approval for the ring, we will continue to work to understand how we can best support women to use it consistently, and advance research to expand women’s options with additional new methods that make sense for their lives and needs.”