New anti-retroviral vaginal ring shows promise in clinical trials in South Africa
The South African Medical Research Council is conducting cutting edge HIV clinical trials at seven sites across the province of KwaZulu-Natal. CCTV America’s Rene Del Carme reported this story from Durban, South Africa.
One of the new technologies is an anti-retroviral (ARV) vaginal ring made of latex which slowly releases the ARV drug dapivirine and can last for about a month. It’s hoped the ring will have a tremendous effect as a new, discreet, long-acting protection against HIV.
“Should [a woman wearing the ring] have unprotected sex, we’re hoping the slow release mechanism of the drug is an available to combat HIV and prevent her from getting HIV infection,” said the director of HIV prevention unit, Gita Ramjee.
The women in the Durban trials said that the ring allowed for them to have control over their own health.
“They believe that it will protect them from HIV infection. But more importantly they believe that it will protect their children and the new generation,” said senior specialist scientist Neetha Morar.
One of the trial’s participants, Sindisiwe Mazibuko, said she has managed to remain HIV-negative despite many cultural challenges. When it comes to HIV prevention and acquisition, Mazibuko, 41, said she knows first-hand how disempowered many South African women can be by their male sexual partners.
“Our women, they still have a problem. They lack that ability to negotiate with their partners regarding condom use. In fact with the whole issue in health. You have no power at all to say anything,” said Mazibuko. “And the way we were raised, it’s like you’re not supposed to debate or say anything to a man, because you are a wife. I think these are other issues that lead us in a high rate of HIV, especially women.”
One of the biggest challenges women face is getting men to wear condoms.
“They’re not in control of whether their male partners can get medically circumcised or not. So, that’s why it’s so important for us to have new HIV prevention technologies. Those women can control themselves and are not dependent on a man’s decision-making process,” said Zakir Gaffoor a coordinator at the unit.
In addition to studies at clinical sites in South Africa, data is also being collected in Malawi and Uganda.
“The large-scale trial is happening in Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily because this is where the high incidence of HIV is,” added Ramjee. In this region, a woman is infected with HIV every minute.
Brenda Masango said she wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the Treatment Action Campaign, an organization that works for access to AIDS treatment. Masango contracted HIV as a university student in 2006. At the time, she knew little about the virus. She was so afraid that she even attempted to take her own life. She said TAC offered her aid at a time when the government offered little support. CCTV America’s Guy Henderson reported this story from Soshanguve, South Africa.
Today Masango is campaigning to keep the organization that saved her alive. TAC’s foreign funding has been cut since South Africa was officially deemed a ‘middle income country’. Without new sources of revenue, it will likely close down in the next few months.
In the dark days of HIV/AIDS denials, TAC saved hundreds of thousands of lives by forcing a reluctant government to start rolling out life-saving drugs, doing more than any other organization in South Africa to raise awareness and break down stigmas.
Since then, much has changed. Millions get state help. Frontline services are much improved, to the point where donors are re-focusing. The United Nations now says the global epidemic can be beaten in 15 years. The widely-praised minister of health believes that’s a realistic target.
But TAC says its ground-level work is still vital and that the reality is very different. Keeping women like Masango alive for longer periods of time is stretching the health system to the limit while infection rates remain high. For the many touched by TAC over the years, its closure would be a monumental set-back.
Maria Kabudura lives in Epworth, one of the poorest suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, and one of the areas most affected by HIV. Kabudura has been HIV positive for over a decade, and has remained healthy through access to treatment, and a bit of soccer therapy. CCTV America’s Farai Mwakutuya reported this story from Epworth, Zimbabwe.
“Playing soccer helps lower stress, we can laugh off our problems and we also share our problems and ideas,” Kabudura said.
All the players on her team are women and all of them are HIV positive. The team was formed in 2008 through Sports Trust of Positiveness.
“Through soccer we have killed stigma and discrimination; more people have been tested because they have seen that even if they are HIV positive they are not doomed,” said player Janet Mpalume.
The games not only impact the players, but also the players’ children.
“These children here [see] their mothers playing. When they get to see them play it’s an encouragement. It gives them hope,” Founder of Sports Trust of Positiveness Chris Sambo said.
There were many spills, thrills, and most importantly, what every good soccer match should have, goals that sent spectators into a frenzy.
At the end of the game, the team performed a song and dance, a signature of the team which is also a call to get tested for HIV and AIDS.
In Uganda, the government is rolling out new guidelines to help reduce HIV transmission among couples where one partner has the virus and the other does not. The country has recently seen an increase in HIV cases, especially among married couples. The Ugandan government hopes these new guidelines will help reduce infection rates between couples by around 96 percent.
CCTV’S Isabel Nakirya reported this story from Kampala, Uganda.
Follow Isabel Nakirya on Twitter @iznakirya
Christine Lubinski from the Center for Global Health Policy on AIDS in Africa joined CCTV America to discuss World AIDS Day.