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Microbicides to Protect Women From AIDS Move Into Final Tests

Studies of a product being tested in South Africa are expected to be completed in March. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Right now, the top story in AIDS research involves newly announced findings about adult male circumcision. Two studies in Africa found that circumcised men had half the risk of getting H.I.V. from sex with women as uncircumcised men had.

Researchers declared an early end to the studies in Kenya and Uganda so all the men involved could be offered the operation.

The findings are important. But so is news of progress on microbicides that could help protect women against the AIDS virus.

The Global Campaign for Microbicides says more than sixty products or compounds are under development. Several have reached the last part of the testing process or will enter final testing soon. At this time, no effective microbicides are available.

Women would use a microbicide cream or gel before sex. It might be designed, for example, to kill or inactivate the virus, or to create a physical barrier to guard the cell wall in the body.

The Population Council, a nonprofit group in New York, has been working for seventeen years to develop a microbicide. Its leading candidate is a product called Carraguard. Carraguard is made from carrageenan -- the underwater plant material better known as seaweed.

Final testing of Carraguard for safety and effectiveness is taking place in South Africa. The product is being tested in more than six thousand women for up to two years. The study closes in March. Results are expected within a year after that.

If Carraguard passes the tests, the Population Council is expected to seek approval for it in South Africa and the United States.

The group notes that the first microbicides are expected to be effective forty to seventy percent of the time. Still, many cases of H.I.V. could be prevented.

In some cases, nonprofit groups have been developing microbicides with compounds produced by major drug companies.

AIDS experts say microbicides could give women more control over their bodies. Women often lack the power to demand that their partner use a condom.

Worldwide, almost 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. It estimates that more than four million people have become infected with the virus this year and three million people have died.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. You can learn more about H.I.V. and AIDS at I’m Faith Lapidus.