Standing ovations are a rare occurrence at scientific conferences, but at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna this week, a husband-and-wife team of researchers received no less than three from a filled-to-capacity room of hundreds of scientists, activists, and reporters.
The reason for the thunderous out-of-seat applause? The couple’s team had completed one of the most promising, innovative and carefully conducted studies on HIV prevention in years. It revealed that a vaginal gel containing an HIV medication called Tenofovir could reduce the user’s risk of sexually contracting HIV by 39%. And did we mention it was also 51% effective in protecting the user against herpes transmission? The women were told to use the gel up to 12 hours before sex and then again up to 12 hours after sex.
“The implications of this are really enormous,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. The results have tremendous implications in the global fight against HIV, in which advocates have long been asking for a way that disempowered women can protect themselves against the virus. In countries where rape is used as a tool of war and oppression, the female condom, while highly effective, isn’t the answer.