(NaturalNews) Recently, a new vaginal gel has been hailed as a `breakthrough` and a `lifesaver.` The gel contains a drug previously given to AIDS patients in tablet form. In a randomized controlled trial the gel showed success at blocking HIV infection. Efforts are now underway to arrange a second trial. However, a report on the website Medline indicates the drug has a history of significant side effects.
Women in Africa are at considerable risk of HIV infection since men often resist using condoms. Every year in sub-Saharan Africa, about 2.7 million people are newly infected with AIDS, and researchers are seeking new methods to reduce the epidemic. Drug researchers hoped to come up with a vaginal gel that would protect African women from the threat of contracting AIDS from a sexual partner.
As reported by Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa, Durban, at the 18th International AIDS Conference, the microbial vaginal gel successfully reduced the risk of infection with HIV among women by 39 percent. Karim reported that the more women used the gel, the more they reduced their risk. For example, if they used it 80 percent of the time they had sex, they reduced their risk 54 percent.
The gel was developed by a non-profit organization in Arlington,Virginia, with funding provided by the USA and South African governments under a royalty-free license from the world`s leading producer of AIDS medicines. Another funding source was Bill Gates. The drug used in the gel is a key ingredient in the company`s top three drugs which are given to 85% of newly diagnosed AIDS patients in the US.
Manufacturing rights for the vaginal gel were given to the government of South Africa. As a result of the reports of success with the vaginal gel, shares of stock rose 3 percent.
A second trial of the gel is being arranged. If this proves successful, the gel could be ready for distribution in 2013.
Cate Hankins, the chief scientific officer of UNAIDS, said that the WHO and the United Nations will meet with the South African government next month to discuss accelerating testing of the gel. The gel hasn`t been tested on pregnant women; a test using pregnant women needs to be done. According to the first study, none of the women reported serious side effects.
However, Medline Plus, of the National Library of Medicine, warns that the drug `may cause serious damage to the liver and a condition called lactic acidosis.` There is a warning against breast feeding while taking the drug, and users are urged to tell their doctors if they become pregnant. Medline Plus also warns that body fat could increase, or could move to breasts or upper back, and that the drug does not prevent the spread of HIV to others.