More than 20 years ago, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) convened 44 women from 20 countries who conceived of a substance, like contraceptive foam or jelly, which could be inserted vaginally to prevent HIV infection. We named it a “microbicide,” and set out to find scientists and money to develop it. Until recently, progress has been slow, but in July, results from a clinical trial in South Africa found a new gel to be nearly 40 percent effective in protecting women against HIV during intercourse.
What’s next: Making microbicides widely available to women will require political will and additional funding; donors have only committed about half of the funds necessary for follow-up research. While we will continue to advocate for further development, we must also help women protect themselves now through the only existing woman-initiated HIV prevention tool—the female condom. In Cameroun, IWHC’s longtime partner Society for Women and AIDS in Africa-Cameroun (SWAAC) now distributes over 150,000 female condoms throughout the country each year—and intends to generate even greater demand in the future. Visit blog.iwhc.org/fc to learn more about female condoms, and to watch a video on female condom demand and distribution.