Vaginal Ring: Multinational Trial Shows Strong Protection Against HIV

First Posted: Feb 23, 2016 11:22 PM EST

An experimental vaginal ring that contains the antiretroviral drug dapivirine to fight against HIV was found to help prevent infection when used consistently and properly, according to a clinical trial in four sub-Saharan African countries.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that the drug was most successful in preventing the spread of the disease among women older than 25 in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The drug is made of silicone, cost only $5 and can be worn for up to a month. It also does not need to be refrigerated and can sit on a shelf for up to five years.

"This is the first demonstration of a sustained-release approach for HIV prevention," said study leader University of Washington's Dr. Jared Baeten.

The two studies involved over 4,500 women in Africa who were compared to those who used a vaginal ring that looked similar but that did not contain the drug. For those with the ring that contained dapivirine, researchers found that overall HIV-risk went down from 27 to 31 percent, according to The Washington Post

As for why the device seemed to work better in women 25 and older, Baeten said younger women didn't use it as regularly and the women in the study, in general, had to get used to using a device they'd never seen before. However, when used correctly and continuously, they saw protection that continued throughout the 2.5-year study period, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

"Women need a discreet, long-acting form of HIV prevention that they control and want to use," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a news release. "This study found that a vaginal ring containing a sustained-release antiretroviral drug confers partial protection against HIV among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Further research is needed to understand the age-related disparities in the observed level of protection."

The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine

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