Sanday Chongo Kabange in LUSAKA, Zambia
Close to half of volunteers that took part in a microbicide gel clinical trials in Southern Zambia have contracted HIV due to alleged failed efficacy of the gel, meant to prevent the contraction of the virus that cause AIDS.
The microbicides gel was administered to 1 340 HIV negative women by the Microbicides Development Programme (MDP) in Mazabuka, about 285 kilometres, south of the Zambian capital, Lusaka. Half of these have contracted HIV and one died two years ago, raising fears of the efficacy of the gel.
12 months after the commencement of the latest trials, it has emerged that close to a quarter of the volunteers who were enrolled on to the trial have contracted HIV.
MDP regional co-ordinator, Ruth Kasanda has declined to make any public remarks regarding the outcome of the latest trails.
National AIDS Council spokesperson, Justin Mwiinga has acknowledged existence of the trials but explained that further details would be relayed to the affected parties and the general public after intense investigations.
Similar sentiments have been echoed by Ministry of Health spokesperson, Reuben Kamoto Mbewe who stated, results of microbicide gel would be availed to the public after a detailed report is handed over to the ministry, currently embroiled in a financial scandal involving US$ 2 million.
The microbicides research trials which begun as far back as 2005 have over the years yielded discouraging results, though little has been made public.
According to classified information gathered from the latest outcome, “results of the trials have since been submitted by the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom to the Microbicides Development Programme”.
It has also been learnt that in mid January 2010, all the women who volunteered to undergo the clinical trials would be briefed on the outcome of the research.
The research is being supported by various bodies including the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom and U.S based Meharry Medical College’s School of Health.
Professor James Hildreth and Professor Vladimir Berthaud announced at a news conference in Lusaka in 2006 attended by this reporter, microbicides research was the next preventive measure to contain the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
PRO 2000, a vaginal microbicide gel, had been hailed as the most promising microbicide in a decade of research on female-controlled prevention methods.
The gel contains molecules that are intended to clump around HIV before it can penetrate vaginal walls.
Results of a clinical trial published early this month found no evidence that PRO 2000 reduces the risk of HIV infection.
The trials in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia involved more than 9,000 women between September 2005 and September 2009.
It followed a smaller trial of the gel, which had indicated that using the gel might reduce HIV infections by a third.
The disastrous results emanating out of the Mazabuka research site in southern Zambia have come less than five months before international researchers, clinicians, scientists and journalists prepare for the 2010 International Microbicides Conference (M2010), which will be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA from May 22-25, 2010.
The conference is expected to review and deliberate on microbicides as an alternative HIV preventative measure.