Daniela. As I’ve started to participate in sexual health research, I’ve come to learn about aspects of human sexuality that lend themselves to new and exciting possibilities for the prevention of HIV/STIs.
Currently, I am working with a group of scientists that are part of the Microbicides Trial Network. Microbicides are compounds that can be applied vaginally or rectally and, if found to be effective, could protect yourself and your partner(s) against sexually transmitted diseases – specifically HIV. These products are in clinical development. Researchers are trying to create formulations that are not only safe and effective, but also desirable to use. Microbicide candidates include gels, vaginal rings, and creams. So, how do we find out what people want to use?
We ask them!
Although there have been some successes (i.e. CAPRISA 004 Trial), there is still a long way to go before microbicides hit the sexual health market.
One of the great things about being at the forefront of this research is considering all that’s possible in creating a desirable and effective means of prevention. Finding out which microbicide products are safe and desired by people is one aspect of development that helps move microbicides forward. For example, what would you prefer in a gel? How much lubrication must it provide? Should it have a particular flavor or scent?
Creating microbicidal products that come in different forms can also help key vulnerable populations negotiate safer sex practices. For example, sex workers are often offered more money to not use condoms, which can heighten their HIV risk. Recognizing that negotiation may not always be possible, some microbicide candidates are being formulated to be covert in their use (e.g., vaginal rings); that is, an individual could be wearing it without their partner knowing. Microbicides could provide an avenue for individuals to have control over their sexual health of their body without any additional adverse consequences.
Of course, microbicides are not the sole solution that will help end this pandemic. However, they can provide additional options to combat HIV and other STIs. With other prevention tools available such as at-home HIV testing, couple’s HIV counseling and testing, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and male/female condoms, individuals can choose how best to protect themselves given their particular risk profiles and contexts.