Two HIV-preventing vaginal ring studies promise protection for women in developing countries

Woman holding the dapivirine vaginal ring tested in the NIH-funded ASPIRE study. -- Courtesy of the International Partnership for Microbicides

Vaginal rings that release antiretroviral drugs to prevent AIDS hold promise in developing countries to stem the spread of the disease and empower women by allowing them to control their own drug regimens. And research communities are hailing two new trials in Africa for safety and efficacy.

The two trials--the NIH's ASPIRE and The Ring Study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine--reduced transmission of HIV by 27% and 31% respectively, and both were found safe to use. For reasons of adherence, women older than 21 showed higher levels of efficacy. They tend to keep the ring in place more consistently throughout its monthlong lifetime.

Currently, oral PrEP is one of the only options for sexually active women looking to prevent HIV transmission, but it also requires strict adherence. In past studies, the adherence to the oral regimen showed an opposite correlation with age, as younger people were more likely to be consistent about its use. So researchers believe that having both options available in abundance would quell the spread of HIV in both populations.

"Many women in sub-Saharan Africa--and notably younger women--remain at substantial risk of contracting HIV, and they need and deserve a range of options that they can control and comfortably use to protect themselves every time they have sex," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. "Today, daily oral PrEP is the only truly discrete prevention option they can control. The dapivirine vaginal ring might become an additional option, as additional questions are answered and regulatory agencies consider these results. In the meantime, the incredibly high HIV infection rates among women in these trials tell us that we need to make oral PrEP more widely accessible and available with urgency."

- here's the release
- and the NIH report
- and here's the ASPIRE report from FierceMedicalDevices