Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
A vaginal ring containing an anti-retroviral (ARV) drug called dapivirine is safe for use and can prevent women from being infected with the HIV virus from an infected partner, two recent studies have shown.
The studies known as “A Study to Prevent Infection with a Ring for External Use” (ASPIRE) and The Ring Study showed chances of women getting infected with HIV when using the ring as prescribed were reduced by 27 percent and 31 percent respectively.
In a joint statement released on Monday by the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) and the Microbicides Trials Network (MTN) during the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) taking place in Boston, USA, combined — the two studies showed that dapivirine ring prevented one in three women from HIV acquisition.
ASPIRE protocol chair Dr Jared Baeten described the latest development as a glass half-full moment in the quest for an effective prevention method for women.
“The HIV prevention field for women has struggled in the last few years — at times the glass had seemed almost completely empty. Now, for the first time, we have two trials demonstrating that a female-controlled HIV prevention method can safely help reduce new HIV infections. I’m optimistic about what these results might mean for women worldwide,” he said.
IPM founding chief executive Dr Zeda Rosenerg said the findings give new hope for women’s prevention options.
She said her organisation would seek regulatory approvals for the ring and work with partners to determine its role in strengthening HIV prevention efforts.
“We are also hopeful we can learn more about how to help women who want to use the ring to do so consistently, which could help increase protection,” she said.
Two clinical trials which were conducted in Zimbabwe and other African countries started in 2012 and ended in 2015.
As sister studies, ASPIRE and The Ring Study were designed to provide evidence to support potential licensure of the dapivirine vaginal ring for preventing HIV in women. Because at least two Phase III efficacy trials are usually needed for a product to be considered for regulatory approval, ASPIRE and The Ring Study were conducted in parallel to accelerate the timeline to the ring’s potential approval.
Several other studies have shown that ARVs are highly effective in preventing HIV but how they are delivered was the issue among women.