Microbicides Could Be Available by 2010

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia will jump aboard the microbicides train once proven successful after clinical trials are conducted, according to Minister of Health and Social Services, Richard Kamwi. Microbicides are substances that can substantially reduce transmission of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV when applied vaginally or rectally. They are believed to offer a ray of hope especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic where 55 percent of adults living with the disease are women. Kamwi told New Era from Katima Mulilo on Monday that nothing was going on in Namibia at the moment as far as microbicides are concerned because of lack of capacity in research and finances. But, he said, if an opportunity arises from those with the means, Namibia would be only too happy to go on board. Clinical trials for microbicides in Africa have been conducted in South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Benin and Burkina Faso, among others. “It is a gleam of hope, especially for women,” said Kamwi. With sufficient resources and political will, microbicides could be available by 2010. Although male and female condoms offer protection against HIV and STIs, women who bear the brunt of the disease are yet to be in charge of protecting themselves because of their failure to negotiate for safer sex. An exercise to map experiences of access to care, treatment and support early this year in Caprivi and Kavango found that women complained about failure to negotiate for safe sex with their partners by using condoms. According to a report written by Jennifer Gasti Mallet, Project Officer of the International Community for Women Living with HIV and AIDS Namibia, which runs the Parliamentarians for Women’s Health project, most women reported difficulties in influencing their partners/husbands to use condoms. The report said those who were positive discouraged their partners from using condoms because they felt “why should we use condoms when we are already infected; we might as well enjoy the last pleasures without a condom.” But, the report says, women wanted to live longer so they could take care of their children. Apart from this, the increasing incidents of sexual violence on women, prostitution and early marriages, which help increase the spread of the pandemic, there is need for preventative methods that put women in control. As opposed to condoms, microbicides are easier to use, they allow skin on skin contact, they are women-initiated and can also be used without a partner’s knowledge. Benefits to HIV-positive people include reducing the risk of re-infection and other HIV strains, helping protect both partners and allowing contraception while protecting a partner. Microbicides create a buffer between a germ and vulnerable tissue, interfere with virus into the target cell and also kill or inactivate the gel. Suppose a 60 percent efficacious measure was introduced in 73 low-income countries, they could avert 2.5 million new infections over three years, publications on the new initiative indicate. A biannual microbicides conference took place in Cape Town from April 23 to 26, 2006 for the first time on the African continent, which provided an opportunity for an update on microbicide research and development as well as discussions around key issues such as ethics, acceptability, access and community involvement. The conference learnt that a large number of microbicide advocacy groups are active in many parts of the world, not only pushing forward the microbicide agenda, but also addressing community issues and concerns in various regions.