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.