A newly-developed vaginal ring can help reduce the risk of HIV transmission, researchers from the National Institutes of Health have recently proven in two separate studies.
One of the scientific papers was featured in the New England Journal of Medicine, on Monday, February 22. Its findings were based on a randomized controlled trial (the ASPIRE study) involving a group of 2,629 female patients, aged between 18 and 45.
Around half of the participants, recruited from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa, were required to use a vaginal ring dipped in a commonly prescribed anti-retroviral (dapivirine), and replace that silicone-based device on a monthly basis.
The rest of the subjects were administered a placebo instead, and follow-up examinations were conducted for approximately 1 year after each woman had stopped wearing her vaginal ring.
It was determined that participants who had been assigned to using the dapivirine vaginal rings had a 27% lower likelihood of becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
More precisely, the prevalence of HIV infections in the dapivirine group was of 3.3% (71 cases), whereas in the placebo group approximately 4.5% of the participants contracted this virus (97 cases).
It was also discovered that HIV transmission rates actually dwindled by around 56% among dapivirine users who were aged 22 or upwards.
This caused study authors to suspect that younger individuals who didn’t experience detectable benefits simply failed to insert the device correctly and employ it as advised by their physician.
It may be that some women didn’t place the vaginal ring close enough to the cervix, wore it for just for a limited amount of time, or even inserted it strictly before their follow-up examinations.
This theory is supported by the fact that the concentration of dapivirine in the blood pertaining to patients who reported the least satisfying results was significantly lower than that of their counterparts.
The second trial (known as the Ring Study) included a group of 1,959 female patients from the same age bracket (18 to 45 years old), recruited from Uganda and South Africa.
The participants’ health was tracked for a period of 2 years after ceasing to use this anti-retroviral device, and this time, it was proven that the vaginal ring can lower susceptibility to HIV infections by about 31%.
In addition, among individuals who were above the age of 21, the effectiveness of this type of protection was slightly higher, having been estimated at around 37%.
By and large, experts leading this research discovered that HIV incidence was at 4.1% among participants who had resorted to the vaginal ring, and at 6.1% among those who were required to use a placebo device instead.
For now, the results of this trial are considered preliminary, given the fact that they haven’t yet been featured in a peer-reviewed journal, although they are scheduled to be detailed at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).
All in all, both studies are extremely promising, because they show that a vaginal ring which costs just $5 can offer at least some layer of protection against HIV infections.
Such a device, which doesn’t require refrigeration and has a shelf life of about 5 years, has the advantage of being fully under the woman’s control, in contrast with condoms whose effectiveness depends significantly on the care and consideration shown by male partners.
HIV prevalence remains extremely elevated in developing countries, where access to condoms, preventive PrEP pills (such as Truvada or tenofovir) and other means of protection is severely limited even nowadays.
For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 28 million individuals have already contracted the virus, and AIDS remains one of the leading causes of death across the continent.
Image Source: Infection Control Today