AIDS prevention trial in Zimbabwe targets women

CAPE TOWN, July 22 (Reuters) - An AIDS prevention trial, evaluating both a microbicide and oral tablets in one study, starts soon in Zimbabwe as researchers seek to reduce the disease burden among women. About 5,000 sexually active women are expected to enrol at sites in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and possibly Malawi as part of the study, conducted by the U.S-funded Microbicide Trials Network.

The study will determine whether some of the antiretroviral (ARV) medicines used to treat HIV can also be used to prevent the disease when given as a vaginal microbicide gel or as an oral tablet taken once daily.

In addition, the study, which will specifically test the ARV tablets tenofovir and Truvada, seeks to find out which of the two approaches women would prefer. Tenofovir was also the active ingredient in the vaginal gel.

"We think its very unique because nobody has really tested the difference between an oral route of prevention compared to a vaginal route of prevention," Dr Mike Chirenje, protocol co-chair for the entire study, told Reuters on the sidelines of an AIDS conference.

"Its not so much which was best, in so much as what would women prefer (to take)," he said of a study expected to last three and a half years before first results in 2012.

Recent studies have shown that microbicides can protect women -- who represent nearly 60 percent of adults living with HIV in the world's worst affected sub-Saharan Africa region -- from catching the virus.

In Africa, which bears the highest burden of the disease that has killed 25 million and infects 33 million, the face of the epidemic was young women between the ages of 18-24 years who had the most infections.

A microbicide is a gel or cream women and even men can use to protect themselves against the AIDS virus if their partners cannot or are unwilling to use condoms. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by )