Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Microbicide funding protects women

Yesterday evening, while preparing dinner, I heard an interesting segment on NPR. The segment on microbicides, caught my attention and made me give closer scrutiny to the subject of the piece, which I knew very little about.

Microbicides are products, such as a gels or a creams, that could be applied topically to genital mucosal surfaces to prevent or significantly reduce the transmission of HIV and other disease-causing organisms during sexual intercourse. The safe and effective use of microbicides will help women substantially reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection during sexual intercourse.

Why did this interest me? I am aware of the pandemic of AIDS on the continent of sub-Saharan Africa, where 60 percent of those infected are women. The use of microbicides would empower women in these regions, as well as other areas of the world, in protecting themselves during sexual activity, which can make them particularly vulnerable when they rely upon the use of condoms and other so-called protectants.

What was brought out during the segment on public radio, was the failure of the free market (failure? How could this be? The market is infallible!) to bring about development of these products by drug companies, as there is no profit motive to do so. As a result, the vulnerability of women continues to cause them to run greater risks of infection, even if they are monogamous in their sexual practices.

Currently, there is a bill in the pipeline (co-sponsored by Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe) to increase funding for microbicides, which make up a mere two percent of all spending for AIDS across all the institutes of health in the U.S. This is the third go-round for this type of legislation, so hopefully this will lead to increased spending and a push towards some type of legislation which will mandate drug companies doing something that isn’t driven entirely by the free market profit mechanism.

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