SOUTH AFRICA — The Population Council has announced that Kiara Health of Johannesburg will begin producing vaginal rings designed to protect against HIV and AIDS in the next few years.
Kiara estimates that it could manufacture up to 1 million silicone rings annually, a development that experts hope will make them more affordable and widely accessible.
The devices, approved by almost a dozen countries and the World Health Organization, releases a drug aimed at preventing HIV infections.
The nonprofit council holds the rights to the rings, which a Swedish company currently manufactures.
Approximately 500,000 bands are presently available to African women at no cost, thanks to donations.
According to Ben Phillips, a spokesman for the United Nations AIDS Agency, the significant benefit of the ring is its ability to empower women to use it discreetly, without the knowledge or approval of others.
“For women whose partners won’t use a condom or allow them to take oral (preventive HIV) medicines, this gives them another option,” Phillips explained.
HIV remains a serious global public health issue, claiming the lives of 40.4 million people to date, with continuous transmission in all nations worldwide.
Some countries are reporting growing trends in new infections after a previous decline. WHO data reveals that HIV remains the leading cause of death among African women of reproductive age, with women accounting for 60% of new infections.
Dapivirine is a highly effective ARV drug that works as a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). The ring gradually releases the drug dapivirine over the course of a month.
Although dapivirine is still under investigation in the United States, it is accessible in other countries as a vaginal ring for the prevention of HIV infections (PrEP). It appears that this dosage form is safe to take while breastfeeding.
The current cost of the ring ranges from US$12 to US$16, but experts anticipate a decrease in price with widespread manufacturing in Africa.
Developers are also working on a version that could last up to three months, reducing the annual cost.
The World Health Organization recommends using the ring as a supplementary measure for women at “substantial risk of HIV.”
Regulators in more than a dozen African nations, including South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, have also granted approval.
In its approval, WHO highlighted two advanced studies, indicating that the ring reduced women’s odds of contracting HIV by approximately a third, with additional research suggesting the risk might be reduced by more than half.
Campaigners seized the stage during the world’s largest AIDS conference last year, urging donors to purchase silicone rings for African women.
This development signifies a crucial step forward in the ongoing global effort to combat the HIV pandemic by 2030, in alignment with the policies of WHO, the Global Fund, and UNAIDS.