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Gel Is Next Hope for Preventing HIV in Women

Gels, Cream May Help Protect Highest Risk Group From AIDS Virus
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And it doesn't end there. Halfway across the world, in the Caribbean, nearly three-fourths of new HIV infections are now in women. "And unfortunately parts of Asia are not far behind," Rosenberg says. "So for women worldwide, being young and married are the most significant risk factors for acquiring HIV infection."

The bottom line: HIV-destroying microbicide gels and creams, used in combination with female condoms and diaphragms, must be a priority for prevention, Rosenberg says.

American actor Richard Gere tells WebMD that he agrees. "Yes, we all want to see an effective vaccine but that may be years away. In the meantime," he says, "a microbicide could serve as a way to prevent further transmission.

Microbicides can work in a number of ways: by killing or by preventing the virus from establishing an infection; by blocking infection by creating a barrier between the virus and the cells in the vagina that could become infected; or by preventing the infection from taking hold after it has entered the body, Rosenberg says.

Microbicides "will particularly be effective for women in developing nations who are not able to persuade their partner to use a condom," Rosenberg says. But even in the United States and other developed nations, young women who are afraid to ask new partners to use a condom could benefit greatly, she adds.

About a dozen of microbicides are now in human testing, she says.

According to Rosenberg, the "ABC" philosophy -- abstinence, being faithful, and using condoms -- backed by the Bush administration is a misguided strategy. "Married women, or women who do not have control over if they have sex, cannot choose abstinence. And many women who have contracted HIV infection from their husbands or long-term partners were faithful," she says.

Bernard Hirschel, MD, head of HIV/AIDS at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, and chairman of the XII International AIDS Conference, held in Geneva in 1996, tells WebMD that as much as he would like to see a vaccine to prevent AIDS, he theorizes an effective microbicide will become available first. "That research is further along," he says.

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