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Microbicide Development Act Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives

On September 23, the Alliance for Microbicide Development and the Global Campaign for Microbicides announced the introduction of the “Microbicide Development Act of 2005” in the House of Representatives. Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Representative Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the bill, with 30 co-sponsors.1 Senators Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) had previously introduced the Senate version on March 8.2

A microbicide is a compound that can be applied inside the vagina or rectum to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Theoretically, m icrobicides inactivate, block, or interfere with the transmission of the pathogens that cause HIV and other STDs and are currently under development in the form of gels, creams, films, suppositories, and a sponge or ring. It is unclear at this time whether microbicides are also effective contraceptive agents.3 Currently, research is in the stages of human testing, but products are not yet available.4

Microbicides could have a large impact on the spread of HIV. A study conducted in 2002 estimated that 2.5 million HIV infections would be avoided if 20 percent of the eligible population used a microbicide that was 60 percent effective. The study found that a total of $2.3 billion for health services would be saved in the 73 countries examined. New figures to be released soon suggest that this may be an underestimate of the potential impact of microbicides.5

Microbicides will provide people who cannot or do not use condoms consistently with an alternative option for preventing HIV. Successful prevention strategies such as education, condom availability, and increased access to testing have mitigated the spread of HIV, but nevertheless, HIV continues to spread at a relentless pace, especially among women in developing countries. For many of these women and millions of people around the world, existing prevention options such as mutual monogamy and condoms are not sufficient protective measures for a multitude of reasons. For example, many women do not have the social or economic power to demand fidelity or the use of condoms and are even less empowered to leave relationships where risk is present. Although social change is necessary so that all people are empowered to have safe sexual relationships, there is an immediate need for a woman-controlled HIV-prevention technology. Microbicides are unique in that they would not require a partner's cooperation; women would be able to protect themselves without their partner even knowing.6 This is why it is essential for research efforts to continue in order to make these products available.

“Current prevention options are not enough.  If women and girls are to have a genuine opportunity to protect themselves, their best option is the rapid development of new HIV-prevention technologies like microbicides, which women can initiate,” explained Representative Shays. “We need to dedicate more public health resources to developing microbicides quickly,” he said.7

Representative Schakowsky said, “microbicides could well be the first HIV prevention method that allows women to fight HIV-infection on their own.  This bi-partisan bill may be able to save a generation of women by developing this promising new preventive option.”

Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are all working on microbicide research and development, but no one government branch, unit, office, or official is in charge of coordinating all of these efforts. The primary goals of the Microbicide Development Act are to achieve better coordination of current efforts and to increase resources for research and development activities at all three agencies. The bill also calls for the establishment of a Microbicide Research and Development Unit at the NIH.

While the social and health benefits of making microbicides available are high, the economic incentives that private investors seek are not. Microbicides are likely to be inexpensive and their major market is in developing countries. Thus, governments remain the major funders of research and development into microbicides. The bill states, “like other public health goods, such as vaccines, public funding must fill the gap. Microbicide research depends in large part on Government leadership and investment.”8

“It is essential that we complement existing prevention strategies such as behavioral change, counseling and testing, STD diagnosis and treatment, access to condoms, and medications with microbicides,” said William Smith , vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “Without adequate efforts at coordinated national and global research, it could take many more years for these products to become available, at an enormous cost to societies throughout the world.”

References

  1. Global Campaign for Microbicides, “US House Introduces Microbicide Development Act of 2005,” Press Release published on 23 September 2005.
  2. Global Campaign for Microbicides, “US Senate Introduces Microbicide Development Act of 2005,” Press Release published on 8 March 2005.
  3. Microbicides, World Health Organization, accessed 11 October 2005, <www.who.int>.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions About Microbicides, Global Campaign for Microbicides, accessed 11 October 2005 <www.global-campaign.org>.
  5. Microbicides: A Quick Guide Through the Key Issues, Eldis, accessed 12 October 2005 <www.eldis.org>.
  6. Microbicides, World Health Organization.
  7. Global Campaign for Microbicides, “US House Introduces.”
  8. The Microbicide Development Act of 2005, S. 550, 109th cong. (2005).

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