New Product Offers Hope for HIV Prevention

A vaginal ring releasing drugs into the body cut infection rates by around 30 percent.

Two studies presented Monday at Boston’s Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections suggest that a new product may help stop the spread of HIV.

Both studies examined the efficacy of a vaginal ring that releases the drug dapivirine into the body continuously for four weeks, and found that it could reduce incidence of HIV infection by roughly 30 percent.

Two similar studies were conducted since duplication is key in medical research. The first study, called ASPIRE, tested the ring in almost 3,500 women between the ages of 18 and 45 living in five African nations; the second, called The Ring Study, tested it in about 2,000 women of the same age range living in two African countries. Women given the dapivirine ring had 27 percent lower infection rates than a placebo group in the ASPIRE study, and 31 percent lower rates in The Ring Study.

Interestingly, in both studies, the ring was significantly less effective in women younger than 21—so much so that it likely suggests those women were not using the product correctly. Women older than 21 saw a 56 percent reduction in new infections in the ASPIRE study, and 37 percent in The Ring Study.

Though the ring isn’t a perfect solution, it could allow women a way to better protect themselves without needing a partner’s cooperation, or even knowledge.

“I remember really vividly talking with some of the participants in Zimbabwe partway through the study, and they would say, ‘This ring is mine,’” ASPIRE study lead Jared Baeten told the New York Times. “There was ownership of the ring because she could control it.”

Quite a bit of other HIV/AIDS-related research was or will be presented at the conference this week, including progress in the hunt for a HIV vaccine. Next month, for example, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Fenway Health, along with sites in Latin America and Africa, will embark on a new vaccine study.