HIV disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls because of the uneven cultural, social and economic statuses in society. Therefore their involvement should be prioritised in the HIV response.
Gender disproportion in education and limited social self-sufficiency among women is also interrelated to poor or no access to sexual health services which includes contraceptives, HIV testing and treatment.
Gender discrimination and violence as well as the huge gaps in education are among the factors placing women and girls at risk of contracting HIV.
A United Nations report published in March noted that HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for women aged 15 to 49, with roughly 6 000 young women aged between 15 and 24 contracting HIV every week.
Eliminating violence against women is among the critical issues that require immediate action. In areas with high HIV prevalence rates, intimate partner violence is increasing women’s risk of acquiring the virus by 50 percent, while being HIV positive can also be a trigger for violence.
Hence HIV response must prioritise gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Their empowerment will fulfil their human rights.
In empowering them, variety is the spice of life and having a buffet of HIV preventive methods for women will work in their favour. Hopes are pinned on the World Health Organisations’ guidance to the rolling out of the dapivirine vaginal ring.
According to scientists, this product could help in HIV prevention. They argue that the dapivirine vaginal ring will come in handy for females in serodiscordant relationships as well as sex workers.
Pangaea Zimbabwe AIDS Trust (PZAT) senior programmes manager, Ms Definite Nhamo said the ring brings hope in reducing the HIV burden.
The European Medicines Agency proved that the dapivirine ring has 30 percent efficacy and recently announced a regulatory approval for the use of the ring.
Being the first women-controlled product, and also being the first long acting product (30 days), the ring will promote women’s safety and their peace of mind.
“It will be one of the HIV preventative measures to ease the burden on women, especially in light of the Covid-19 global pandemic restrictions, where it is difficult to visit medical facilities more often. The ring liberalises women as it will be accessed in pharmacies without any inconveniences. Women will simply walk into any pharmacy and buy the preventive vaginal ring,” said Ms Nhamo.
According to the International Partnership for Microbicides, the dapivirine vaginal ring is made of a flexible silicone matrix polymer and contains the ARV dapivirine — a none-nucleoside reverse — transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI) — which is slowly released over the course of the month. The ring delivers dapivirine directly at the site of potential infection, with low systematic absorption.
A women inserts her own ring into the mouth of the cervix and replaces it every month.
The dapivirine vaginal ring will have a meaningful public health impact as part of comprehensive HIV prevention because it averts infections.
The University of Zimbabwe Clinical Trials Research Centre scientist Dr Nyaradzo Mavis Mgodi was involved in the ring’s trials in Africa.
She said the ring’s approval is a major breakthrough in fighting HIV.
She highlighted that the ring is the first long acting HIV prevention tool designed specifically for women, adding that it enables them to protect themselves from HIV transmission.
“The dapivirine vaginal ring has liberated women in terms of HIV prevention as most women cannot negotiate for safer sex due to various reasons.
“Women can get infected by HIV when they engage in transactional and intergenerational sex, as well as child marriages,” said Dr Mgodi.
She said the dapivirine vaginal ring has minimal side effects, if any.
However, a combination of comprehensive prevention methods are required to control the spread of HIV.
This includes condoms, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis tablets, as well as the rings.