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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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AIDS Taking on a Female Face

Women's Issues -- in U.S. as Well as Abroad -- at Heart of AIDS Prevention

The Search for Solutions

"In the last five years there has been increased awareness that women carry a heavy burden of HIV. Not just in terms of mother-to-child transmission, but greater awareness that women themselves are carrying a heavy burden," Overbaugh says. "And I hope where it is leading us is to find and prioritize strategies that might reduce risk in women."

The holy grail of AIDS research is an effective vaccine. That goal remains elusive, although progress is being made.

There's another way women might protect themselves. It's called a vaginal microbicide. Researchers all over the world are racing to develop a safe cream or gel containing drugs that kill HIV or keep it at bay.

"Microbicides are good because they are private and female-controlled," Priddy says. "We need to give women that power over their own protection. Even here in a population like Atlanta we see a clear need for women to protect themselves."

Priddy says a vaginal microbicide won't be ideal if it has to be applied prior to every sexual encounter.

"What's needed is something that doesn't have to be applied every time, like a pill or an injection or an intravaginal ring that would give off a steady flow of a microbicide," she says. "There is definitely a lot of work to do in biomedical ways for women to protect themselves against HIV infection."

But there's only so much science can do.

"When you talk about gender disparities, sexual inequity, and poverty, there are no ready solutions," Priddy says. "In the scientific community, there is a feeling that we don't know exactly how to address those issues. So in dealing with HIV and AIDS, the medical and scientific fields have had great success in developing antiretroviral drugs, but HIV/AIDS prevention has not caught up with the technological advances of HIV/AIDS treatment. ... We say this is a multifactorial problem, but maybe our approach to a solution has not been so multifactorial."

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