Kampala — UGANDA'S trials of a microbicide gel designed to prevent the transmission of HIV in women have hit a deadlock after research revealed that women who used it got infected with the virus at a higher rate than those who did not utilise it.
Microbicides are substances that a woman can apply in her vagina before having sexual intercourse. They may include gels or creams. Cellulose sulphate, a microbicide gel, was tested on over 1,300 women in Uganda, Benin, India, South Africa and Burkina Faso.
During the study, the women were divided into two groups. One of them used a gel which contained cellulose sulphate, while the other group used a microbicide which did not contain the ingredient.
By the end of one year, a total of 34 women had been infected, 25 of whom were using the cellulose sulphate gel compared to 11 in the second group.
"We have decided to stop the trials, because we found that this is not actually helping our women. This is a very big blow to us and to our sponsors," said Prof. Florence Mirembe, a co-investigator.
She was yesterday releasing the findings of the study at the Microbicides Research Centre in Mulago Hospital.
"I want to clarify that the gel was not the cause of infection. Some women had more than three partners, yet many times, they did not use the gel," she asserted.
Mirembe explained that research on other Microbicides would continue in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"It is often difficult for women to insist that men use condoms during sex, but they can apply the gel before sexual intercourse without the man knowing. While this has flopped, research will continue."
Dr. Bina Pandey of the Mulago Hospital obstetrician and gynaecology department noted that developing drugs is a difficult task.
"This is a reminder that drug development is not easy. It is a process, and there chances are that it may turn out negative. For instance, Panadol or Aspirin did not come out just like that."
The trials were sponsored by a US-based health research group, CONRAD.