The U.S. National Institute of Health announced that a new experimental vaginal insert for HIV prevention had little effect on vaginal intercourse. The ring is being evaluated for effectiveness in the ASPIRE Study in Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It releases dapivirine into a woman’s body, similar to contraceptive vaginal insert rings.
If proven effective, the ring could represent a groundbreaking moment in HIV prevention for women globally. This is especially true for women living in high-risk environments, such as those who engage in sex-work, or are unable to otherwise make HIV prevention decisions on their own. The ring is an important step, not only for HIV prevention, but for transformative gender empowerment as well. The ring expands the HIV prevention tool-kit in a way that is specifically beneficial to women, as it shifts the locus of control to them, and their bodies. This is extremely significant for women living in gender unequal dynamics. Traditionally, HIV prevention has considered men over women. An example of this is the male condom, which is much more widely used and distributed than the female condom. In particular, efforts have been made to make the male condom more “comfortable” and “pleasurable” for men, with little of the same consideration for women. The vaginal insert removes the need for condom-negotiation in some contexts; and allows women to make HIV prevention decisions on their own.
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