Plan Unveiled for Rectal Microbicide Research in Africa

April 17, 2012

A Newly Launched African-Inspired, African-Led Initiative Says “Yes” to Rectal Microbicides

SYDNEY – A strategic initiative to promote the research and advocacy of rectal microbicides as a method of preventing HIV/AIDS in Africa takes an important step forward today.

International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) – a global advocacy network headquartered at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago – will release On the Map: Ensuring Africa’s Place in Rectal Microbicide Research and Advocacy at the international Microbicides 2012 conference in Sydney, Australia, today. The document will be critical to the efforts of IRMA’s Project ARM (Africa for Rectal Microbicides) and outlines priority actions to ensure Africa fully engages in rectal microbicide research and advocacy activities, including the integration of safe anal-sex messaging into HIV prevention programs.


“For far too long the operating principle concerning the HIV epidemic in Africa has been that it is solely heterosexual, and that sexual transmission is entirely driven by unprotected vaginal intercourse between men and women,” said Jim Pickett, IRMA chair and director of prevention advocacy and gay men’s health at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC).


He continued: “But an increasing body of evidence tells us quite clearly that unprotected anal intercourse is happening all across the continent – among heterosexuals as well as gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender individuals. Unprotected anal intercourse is not uncommon in Africa, and compared to unprotected vaginal intercourse, it is 10 to 20 times more likely to result in HIV infection. We absolutely need to be concerned about this.”

Change will take time in Africa, but this is important step forward, said Morenike Ukpong, an IRMA member who is one of the chief architects of the Project Arm strategy.

“We still face significant hurdles regarding human rights for gay men, MSM, and transgender individuals in Africa, but the collective, long-term efforts of advocates and scientists are indeed lifting the denial around anal sex in the African context,” said Ukpong, of the New HIV Vaccines and Microbicides Advocacy Society in Nigeria. “Great efforts have long been underway to develop safe and effective vaginal microbicides for African women. We need the same level of commitment and resources for the development of safe, effective, acceptable and accessible rectal microbicides for Africans regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

On the Map:  Ensuring Africa’s Place in Rectal Microbicide Research and Advocacy is the result of an intensive two-day consultation conducted with over 40 Africans and allies that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in early December 2011. It calls for a set of activities related to research and community mobilization designed to fully engage Africans, including a Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours study on anal sex, advocacy for increased condom-compatible lubricant access, and communication and education activities.

Even as this report is being released, Africa has already made great strides in rectal microbicide research and advocacy. A global Phase II rectal microbicide trial looking at tenofovir gel in gay men and transgender women, planned by the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN), includes the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa as one of its clinical trial sites.

“Africans need rectal microbicides and they need to be part of the advocacy, research and development processes that are essential to creating products that are not only safe and effective but acceptable and accessible too. I pledge our full support for the efforts of Project ARM.” – Dr. Ian McGowan, United States, MTN co-principal investigator and IRMA Scientific Vice Chair, as quoted in the report

Funding and in-kind support for the launch of Project ARM and the development of On the Map:  Ensuring Africa’s Place in Rectal Microbicide Research and Advocacy was provided by the National Institutes of Health – Office of AIDS Research, the New Venture Fund, AVAC and AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jim Pickett: +1 (773) 600-6407,
IRMA is a global network of advocates, scientists, policy makers and funders from six continents working together to advance a robust rectal microbicide research and development agenda. IRMA is based in the United States at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and has active chapter in Latin America and Africa. Currently in development, microbicides are products (gels, lubricants, films) that could be applied in the rectum or the vagina to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Categorized under Prevention.

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