ABWW Health Watch: New study on vagina gel to reduce HIV/AIDS risk holds promise for women

David Ormsby,
San Francisco Examiner
July 25, 2010.
The XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna this week announced that a new vaginal gel has been shown to significantly reduce a woman’s risk of being infected with HIV. The microbicide gel contains an antiretroviral drug commonly used to treat people living with HIV, and was found in a clinical trial study to be 39% effective in reducing a woman’s risk of becoming infected with HIV during vaginal intercourse.

Black and Hispanic women have the highest rates of HIV infection in the country. In 2006, Chicago women accounted for 20% of diagnosed HIV infections, a percentage that has remained unchanged over the last six years. The gender gap, however, varies considerably by race and ethnicity. Women represent 29% of all HIV infections among Blacks, 17% among Hispanics, and 5% among Whites. The leading mode of transmission for women is heterosexual contact. Among female HIV infections diagnosed in 2006, 79% were transmitted through heterosexual contact, and 20% through injection drug use.

At the Chicago-based Children’s Place Association, which provides an early-learning program for HIV/AIDS-infected or affected children, the organization’s president, Cathy Krieger, is welcoming the news out of Vienna.
“If other studies confirm the vaginal gel outcomes, this could prevent thousands of new HIV infections in Chicago over the next two decades, saving the lives of not only adult women, but also improving the lives of their children.”

Krieger noted, “Approximately 65% of the mothers of the 83 children in our pre-school program have HIV/AIDS. We know that disease endangers not only the fragile health of the moms, but also puts at risk the academic and social development of their children.” And one Chicago lawmaker is promising legislative action if the gel proves effective.

“The breakthrough on HIV/AIDS prevention for women announced at the Vienna conference is deeply welcome news,” said State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), Chair of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee, the legislature’s leading HIV/AIDS expert.

“If further clinic trials were to confirm that the microbicide gel reduces HIV/AIDS transmission, I would sponsor legislation to ensure low-income Illinois women have access to the gel to save lives and save tax payers expensive HIV/AIDS treatment costs.”

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