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On the Horizon: A New Way to Rein in Sexually Transmitted Disease

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Harrison agrees. There's just one problem: "People don't like condoms." Still, she says, "To say microbicides are going to replace condoms is not accurate and even risky. If people use condoms consistently, they lower their risk."

And yet, there is the hope microbicides can safely go it alone, says Jacqueline E. Darroch, senior vice-president and vice-president of research for the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which studies public policy issues. "Right now, these are still in the development phase. It's not clear whether they will be contraceptive and protective against [sexually transmitted diseases]." But, she says, it's likely any initial recommendation for use would include a condom.

Two years ago, the institute conducted a national survey of women aged 18-44 to gauge the level of interest in microbicides. The survey found 40% of women expressing at least some level of interest in using an antimicrobial. But that proportion jumped to more than 90% when women were asked whether they would be receptive if in a situation where a sexually transmitted disease would be a risk. Moreover, a huge majority -- 84% -- said they would likely not use even a highly effective product without a condom.

"We have good methods of contraception," Darroch says. But the status quo "leaves women who are unable to get their partner to use a condom or to [accept] a female condom without other options. So finding a vaginal microbicide for women to use on their own is something that is well needed around the world."

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