Zimbabwe is introducing the dapivirine vaginal ring to expand HIV prevention options for women.
The dapivirine vaginal ring developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) is a flexible, silicone ring that a woman can insert in the vagina for monthly protection against HIV.
The ring is designed to provide women with a discreet and long-acting option for HIV prevention. It contains the anti-retroviral drug dapivirine, which is released slowly to reduce the risk of HIV infection locally in the vagina with few effects elsewhere in the body.
In a Twitter interview with a local publication, a histopathologist with experience in conducting HIV trials in women of reproductive age in Harare, Dr Nyaradzo Mgodi said women need female-controlled longer-acting products like the ring.
“Condoms are very good, but require the participation/consent of male partner. Some women need female-controlled longer-acting products like the ring,” she said.
“It takes two to tango, of note is that earlier studies also showed ring to be acceptable by men. It does not interfere with sexual intercourse. Am sure men would be concerned about this,” Mgodi added.
Over the last decade, a number of studies in different settings have tested the ring’s safety, effectiveness and acceptability.
Young women aged 16-21 in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe are currently participating in REACH, a study of the ring and oral PrEP that is designed to collect additional safety information among this age group, and to understand their HIV prevention needs and preferences related to these two products.
In addition, there are studies ongoing or in development right now to explore the ring’s safety among pregnant and breastfeeding women.
“The ring reduced the risk of HIV by about 30%, with no safety concerns, in two large Phase III trials: ASPIRE, conducted by MTN, and The Ring Study led by the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM),” said Dr Mgodi.
“The ring is used for a month at a time and contains an ARV – dapivirine that slowly releases into the vagina during month worn. It’s flexible and women insert and remove it themselves; and discreet – men rarely feel it during sex,” she added.
Dr Mgodi emphasized that the ring protects the woman who is wearing it and not her partner with those in multiple sexual relationships requiring a comprehensive HIV/STI prevention counselling on the need to also use condoms.