Scientists have been searching for a way to help women prevent contracting HIV during heterosexual sex for some time now. Eighty-four percent of women contract HIV in this way and at present the only preventative options are condoms (both male and female versions). This might seem simple and accessible enough to a number of women living in the United States, but the reality is that for many women around the world guaranteeing that their male partners will use a condom certainly can prove to be difficult, if not impossible. Half of the people in the world living with HIV are women and women are twice as likely as men to contract HIV. This is one of the reasons that scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle are interested in creating a new form of protection in which women can take their sexual health back into their own hands regardless of their situation.
As mentioned before, this idea is nothing new. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PreP) is a prevention method that can be used by people who have a high risk of contracting HIV. This might include people with HIV positive partners, intravenous drug users, or people who regularly have unprotected sex with partners with unknown HIV statuses. The anti-HIV drugs are given in the form of a pill that must be taken every day. Scientists have also been working on topical creams and gels that contain the anti-HIV drugs microbicides for years. While the intention is good with these products, they still lack usability and convenience. They can leak out, be quite messy, and the anti-HIV drugs take about 20 minutes to absorb into a woman’s system, so she would have to know she was going to have sex beforehand and have already applied the gel or cream in order to be properly protected. Microbicides are a promising way to help women prevent HIV, but the engineers at the University of Washington agree that the delivery method of these drugs need serious improvement.
The solution being proposed is a vaginal insert, similar to a tampon, that dissolves upon contact with the moisture found inside a woman’s vagina and releases a high dosage of the microbicide, maraviroc, into her system. The “tampon” is made from a polymer using nanotechnology. The fibers are about 200 times smaller than a human hair and extremely flexible, meaning that the developers of this product can offer different shapes depending on what would be most comfortable and convenient for users from all over the world. The ultimate goal is to combine this technology with a contraceptive spermicide in order to offer a product that protects against HIV, pregnancy, and other sexually transmitted infections. This product could be a huge benefit for women everywhere, but unfortunately it will still be a long time before it is available on the general market. The product is entering trials with animals and it will likely be 5 years before they are approved for human trials, then another 5 before it is approved to be sold and distributed. Nevertheless, this technology could signify very positive changes in the world of women’s health.
Cole, D. (2014, August 14). How A Dissolvable 'Tampon' Could One Day Help Women Stop HIV. Retrieved November 1, 2014, from http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/08/14/340348303/how-a-dissolvable-tampon-could-one-day-help-women-stop-hiv?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social
Pearson, C. (2014, August 11). New 'Tampons' Could Protect Women Against HIV. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/11/hiv-tampons_n_5668840.html
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). (2014, September 30). Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/research/prep/
Velez, A. (2014, August 14). New Tampon Could Protect Against HIV for Women. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://thestir.cafemom.com/healthy_living/176091/tampons_protect_against_hiv
A TAMPON THAT PREVENTS HIV by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Meghan Stone, MSW, MEd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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