AFRICA: Finding effective microbicide just the first step
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
CAPE TOWN, 25 April (PLUSNEWS) - An effective microbicide could be ready in six years if current trials are successful, but it would take longer before hitting the shelves in developing countries, delegates attending an international microbicides conference heard on Tuesday.
Microbicides include a range of products - such as gels, films and sponges - that could help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
According to Dr Saul Johnson, executive director of health consulting company Health and Development Africa (HDA), delays in making the female-controlled prevention method available could not be underestimated.
In a study commissioned by the International Partnership for Microbicides, HDA found that in South Africa for instance, delays in registering microbicides with regulatory body the Medicines Control Council, could be a major obstacle.
"Even 'fast track' registration can take up to a year, and it's still unclear what products can be fast tracked," he noted. Manufacturing microbicides would also take time to scale up, Johnson added.
Even if the health department provided funding for a microbicide, procurement, training and distribution could add further delays to microbicide access.
Nevertheless, it was not all "doom and gloom", as South Africa had a strong regulatory body that could be used by other countries in the region to scale up microbicide access.
There were two firms in South Africa that could manufacture a microbicide for the country and region, and the government had financing tools to support them, Johnson said.
While a lot of the planning needs to wait until a microbicide candidate shows efficacy, regulatory bodies could be strengthened in the meantime, to avoid excessive delays.
Researchers at the conference in Cape Town, South Africa, have also warned against creating unrealistic expectations of microbicides. "Even the best microbicide is not going to change gender dynamicsm ... it will not be the answer to the epidemic," Johnson stressed.
Research presented at the conference has shown that although microbicides are celebrated as a female-controlled method, decisions about their use may not be determined solely by women, and would still require some negotiation.