Letter: Aids prevention

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The Independent Online
Sir: In order to rid the world of HIV/Aids we absolutely must have an effective vaccine ("How to stop a killer", 26 January). However, in the meantime, while the world's scientists are fighting this critical battle, every year some 4.5 million more people will be infected with the virus as a result of unprotected sex. That is why we also need to intensify efforts to develop alternative preventive technologies, including microbicides, to block the sexual transmission of HIV.

Microbicides - inexpensive, medicated vaginal gels that women can insert prior to sexual intercourse, if necessary without their partner's agreement or even knowledge - represent the technology most likely to fill this need in the near term. Several of these products are currently undergoing large-scale clinical trials, and if all goes well we anticipate that by 2008 one or more of these will be proven effective, safe and acceptable to the user.

The benefits of microbicides, in terms of both the public health and national/regional economies, will be immense. An analysis conducted by colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, based on data from 73 low-income countries, indicates that 2.5 million HIV infections will be averted within three years of introducing a microbicide. Savings in health-system costs could amount to $2.7bn, with an additional $1bn in productivity savings gained from preventing absenteeism and reducing the need to retrain and replace workers.

Gordon Brown's pledge to mobilise massive funding for Aids treatment and prevention deserves the strongest possible backing. His initiative must highlight not only support for the much-needed Aids vaccines but also for the development and provision of anti-HIV microbicides.

Dr ALAN STONE

Chairman

International Working Group on Microbicides

London NW3

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