A gel to stop HIV infection, but does it come at too costly a price?

// 9 February 2006

A gel which could protect women against HIV is in the advanced stages of human trials. That’s the good news. But a drug company is using thousands of poor African women to test it, and questions are being asked about whether they have given informed consent.

Women’s eNews runs a thorough piece on the story today, quoting scientists that give a thorough defence of the practice. As one doctor says, it is the number of women catching HIV on the continent that is “immoral”.

But the story also raises worrying questions about clinical trials in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Mabitso Marumo, a senior counselor at the Setshaba Research Centre, said very few women cite the money as a reason for partaking in the trials, but it does happen.

“Some people will say that they came here for the money in the beginning, but after a while they think that the health benefits are the greatest, for example, the free tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.

Marumo expressed more concern about women who seem to forget that they are taking part in product testing and begin assuming the gel will really protect them against HIV infection. She might be right to be worried.

“Sometimes I use a condom and sometimes I use the gel. It is nice with just the gel,” trials participant Victoria said.

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