A new clinical trial performed by the charity, International Partnership for Microbicides, may be influential in developing birth control that also helps to protect women from contracting HIV. The organization has developed a silicone vaginal birth control ring that releases both the contraceptive hormone, levonorgestrel, and the anti-HIV drug, dapivirine.
Women contract HIV at a higher rate than men. Many women around the world do not protect themselves because of economic and cultural reasons. Other contributors to this higher rate include biological factors that make women more susceptible to contracting the disease. Previous attempts to design HIV prevention methods for women included models that only contained dapivirine. This is the first attempt to combine the antiviral medication with birth control. The initial model was designed in 2016 and lowered the risk of contracting HIV by about 30 percent. Issues with the initial model were not with design, but rather with improper and inconsistent use.
Researchers from IPM believe that the combination of the anti-HIV medication and birth control may encourage women to use the product more consistently. Consistent use will increase the level of protection in users, according to IPM.
Many women around the world face scrutiny for using prevention methods to safeguard themselves against HIV and unwanted pregnancy. In many countries, cultures and religions, there are negative stigmas attached to using birth control. The ring, is small and unnoticeable to partners, allows women to protect themselves without negative social consequences.
Around 25 percent of HIV patients in the United States are women, and women make up 20 percent of the number of new cases diagnosed each year, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total number of women with HIV around the globe equals almost 18 million, according to the World Health Organization.
Currently, there is no hormonal birth control on the market that protects women from contracting HIV. Barrier methods, like condoms, are 98 to 99 percent effective at reducing the risk of contracting birth control, when used consistently and correctly.
When condoms are used correctly, they also prevent the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases, like herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis.
Dr. Mona Alqulali, M.D., Ph.D, F.A.C.O.G, is an Iowa OBGYN who encourages patients to use birth control to prevent pregnancy and protect themselves from diseases like human papillomavirus, or HPV.
"HPV affects 1 in 4 patients, and is completely preventable through the use of barrier contraceptives," Alqulali said.
This equals about 79 million Americans with the disease currently. Many of these individuals do not know they have the disease. There are over 14 million new cases of HPV contracted each year in the United States, according to the American Sexual Health Association. There are over 100 types of the HPV virus, and some of these types cause warts to appear on the hands, feet, or genitals.
HPV has also been linked to increased risks of cervical cancer. In fact, cervical cancer is the first cancer known to medical professionals to be caused by a virus, according to the ASHA.
Annual pelvic exams and Pap smears can help catch HPV in early stages, which may prevent it from progressing to cancer. Pap smears take cell samples from the cervix to look for abnormal cells. Some women skip their pelvic exams and Pap tests despite warnings from their doctors and medical community.
"Women should talk to their doctor about ways to minimize their risks of contracting HIV, and visit their doctor each year for an annual pelvic exam and Pap test, in order to rule out any abnormalities," Alqulali said.
The combination birth control and anti-HIV ring will go through trials in the United States to test for safety. IPM hopes to have the dual ring available to the market by 2020.
Alqulali is excited about the potential for the development of the anti-HIV and contraceptive ring from IPM.
"Giving patients access to easy to use methods of prevention for HIV will protect their health," Alqulali said.
The Economist. "The Fight Against Aids: How to Protect Women Against HIV and Pregnancy". 4 May 2017
Centers for Disease Control. HIV/AIDS: HIV and Women. 3 March 2017
American Sexual Health Association. Statistics. 2017