Scientists discovered in July that a vaginal gel significantly reduced HIV. However, possible use of the gel for women is now being stalled by a lack of funds.
There is not enough money to get started with two studies needed to confirm the vaginal microbicidal gel infused with the antiviral drug tenofovir works to prevent HIV transmission in women.
Only about £37 million of the £64mn it will cost to follow-up research on the gel has been pledged, which isn’t enough to pay for even just one of the two trials, said the United Nations Aids agency, UNAIDS.
Public health workers say that any delay in starting the trials could be deadly. Most of the 22 million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and an effective microbicide could protect women whose partners refuse to use condoms, The New York Times reported.
Researchers and public health experts asked for two extra trials and work to promote and hand out the microbicide through family planning programs at a South Africa UNAIDS conference last week. The hope is that the further studies will throw up the evidence needed to adopt the gel on a large scale.
The first study of the gel found that women who used it were 39 per cent less likely to get infected with HIV compared with women who didn't use it. The women who used the gel regularly nearly halved their risk of infection. Researchers had planned to lead one confirmatory study in South Africa, where about 5.7 million people are HIV-positive, and a second study in five other southern African nations
“We have to keep our eye on the prize,” said UNAIDS Dr Catherine Hankins. “It’s in reach. We have to close the funding gap and get the gel to women.”
For 20 years, scientists have been trying to develop a microbicide to prevent HIV transmission. The US and South African governments have come up with most of the extra funding but Britain, has not yet made a commitment. Some at the conference said the UK government was moving its priorities away from Aids and more toward maternal and child health, malaria and tuberculosis.
“HIV/Aids is perceived to be very expensive research, and there’s a sentiment in the UK that it’s time to shift priorities,” said World Health Organization scientist Tim Farley.
In South Africa, one in three women is living with HIV, according to Aids charity, Avert.