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AIDS Drugs in a Gel May Help Protect Women From H.I.V.

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Two major drug companies have agreed to work with a non-profit group to develop new products to protect women from H.I.V. H.I.V. is the virus that causes AIDS.

The companies are Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb. They have signed separate agreements with the International Partnership for Microbicides. That group is based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The aim is to create products for women from new compounds developed by the two companies. The products could include microbicide gels. The thick liquid would be placed into the vagina to reduce the spread of H.I.V. during sex.

The agreements will give the non-profit group the right to develop, manufacture and deliver the products to poor countries. The group says even a partially effective microbicide could prevent an estimated two and a half million H.I.V. infections over a period of three years.

The compounds are part of a new group of drugs known as H.I.V. entry inhibitors. They are designed to prevent human immunodeficiency virus from entering a cell.

A study in Nature magazine last month involved experimental gels made from entry inhibitor drugs. Researchers tested them on a group of monkeys. The monkeys received either one drug or a combination of drugs.

The researchers say the single drug protected most of the monkeys from a virus similar to H.I.V. But they say a combination of three drugs was effective in all three monkeys that they tested it on. Scientists from Cornell University and the Tulane National Primate Research Center led the study.

Worldwide, about half of adults with H.I.V. and AIDS are women. But the United Nations says women are victims of sixty percent of new infections. In southern Africa, seventy-five percent of the infected young people are women and girls.

The number of women and girls infected with H.I.V. has increased in every part of the world. Most of the infections are caused by sex between men and women. Many women do not have the power to demand that their partners use a condom.

The International Partnership for Microbicides says a vaginal gel could give women more control over their bodies. But researchers say it is still at least five years away.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.