For decades now women have had multiple options when it comes to maintaining control of their reproductive system, but the same cannot be said when it comes to protecting against STDs, particularly HIV. And in regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the prevalence of HIV is particularly high—some 26 percent of the population of Swaziland carry the disease—it has become strikingly clear that throwing condoms at the issue isn’t a solution. Which is why there is significant hope that a vaginal ring currently undergoing trials—the Dapivirine ring—will be able to provide women with HIV protection they can control.
The Dapivirine ring has been developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides, who received significant support from both the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create tools that enable women to protect themselves against HIV. The ring itself is a silicone hoop that goes around the cervix—think Nuvaring—that slowly releases the antiretroviral drug dapivirine into the cervix. It can be used discreetly and is designed to provide protection for at least a month.
Currently, the drug is in phase III trials in Africa, which—as Zoe Cormier details in Vice—means that thousands of women are providing much needed testing for the ring, knowing that its efficacy has not yet been determined and there is still a risk that they could contract HIV. The results of these trials are expected in 2016, and if it proves successful, the Dapivirine ring could be available as soon as 2018.
If the ring does prove effective, then it will be the first time women have had a way to protect themselves against HIV at their own discretion. Moreover, the International Partnership for Microbicides hopes the Dapivirine ring could be combined with contraceptive drugs to provide women with both birth control and HIV protection in one simple device that only needs to be changed once a month.
Images via International Partnership for Microbicides