Let’s Talk Contraception: New Contraceptives and HIV Protection

This ring, currently under development, can be inserted into the vagina to prevent both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

This ring, currently under development, might reduce risk for both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012 there were 35.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. A whopping 69 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children reports that 2 out of 5 children born in developing countries are the result of unintended pregnancies.

Condoms remain the gold standard for protection against HIV transmission. But not all women are able to negotiate condom use. The same can be said for contraceptives. Health-care providers in some areas of the world are not even able to provide condoms consistently due to political or financial pressures.

An intravaginal ring under development might protect against pregnancy, HIV, and genital herpes.

But there are nonprofit groups researching and developing products to meet the needs of women in these countries. With the financial backing of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CONRAD, a nonprofit committed to improving reproductive health globally, is testing a new intravaginal ring that combines a hormonal contraceptive, levonorgestrel, and an HIV microbicide, tenofovir, in the same product. When inserted vaginally, it slowly dispenses both drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission.

This past November, researchers from CONRAD reported that this new ring is able to deliver effective levels of both drugs for 90 days. Human trials will begin this year to look at acceptability, safety, and effectiveness. Two types of rings will be tested, one containing both the contraceptive and the anti-HIV microbicide, and the other containing only the microbicide.

Earlier studies have showed that when tenofovir gel, a microbicide developed by CONRAD, was applied vaginally before and after sex, HIV acquisition decreased by about 40 percent or more if used consistently. Studies are now being conducted to see if this microbicide will also work rectally as well as vaginally. Some studies have shown promise that it will also prevent the transmission of HSV-2, which is responsible for genital herpes.

These are exciting developments in contraceptive research that could also decrease HIV transmission rates around the world. The research continues, but this new intravaginal multipurpose ring may soon be a reality if tests continue to show positive results. And, someday in the future, we could see these products available in the United States.

For information on effective contraceptives available today, or to talk about protecting yourself or your partner from HIV transmission, make an appointment with a health-care provider at Planned Parenthood.

Click here to check out other installments of “Let’s Talk Contraception”!