Human Gel to Prevent HIV?

A few months ago I had come home on holiday. I was sitting in my room, checking my email and my father was about to go to sleep in the next room, close enough that if he called my name out not too loudly I would’ve heard him. Instead I got an email from him, “Put off the lights Guli”.

The world is rapidly becoming more and more dependant on technology. There is a short cut to everything. Has this made things simpler, or people more impatient? Email, videoconferencing, telephones are all attempts to bring people closer together, but its actually just reduced personal interaction. It has been stated: “Industrialization resulted in rapid and sustained economic growth and a massive increase in consumer goods. But at the same time, for many people it meant a thoroughly unpleasant work environment.”

But then again there are people like my mother, who up until a few months ago could not check the messages on her cell phone. There is always something new happening in the world of science. In fact, there are so many new scientific discoveries and inventions, that it’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of all the new information. And there are some people, like my mother, who don’t want to stay up to date, who don’t want to learn about the latest features on the newest model on the iphone.

There is group of people who talk fondly of the time before television, a time when children went out to play everyday, a time before mind-numbing video games. If asked my personal opinion on the subject- has science and technology affected our world positively or negatively, my answer is simple, I don’t know. There are times when I feel things have only become more complex, the wider range of options has only made us more confused and less satisfied, and we now work harder to stay in the same place. But I do know there are things that have helped me- Skype for instance. I can now not only talk to my New York based sister everyday, but I can also see her.

Let’s continue to focus on the good that technology has accomplished. At this stage, it may feel like there is a disconnect in the article: Scientists have developed a “molecular condom”.

“We did it to develop technologies that can enable women to protect themselves against HIV without approval of their partner,” said lead scientist Prof Patrick Kiser of the University of Utah.

According to the scientists, due to cultural and socioeconomic factors, women often are unable to negotiate the use of protection with their partner.

“So we developed a vaginal gel that a woman could insert a few hours before sex and could detect the presence of semen and provide a protective barrier between the vaginal tissue and HIV. We wanted to build a gel to stop HIV from interacting with vaginal tissue.

“It flows at a vaginal pH, and the flow becomes slower and slower as pH increases, and it begins to act more solid at the pH of semen,” co-scientist Julie Jay said.

The scientists estimate that if all goes well, human tests of the gel would start in three to five years, and the gel would reach the market in several more years.

In India there is gender inequality, stigma that surrounds HIV and both these factors together cause what it known by some as a “Stigma Chakra”, a vicious cycle- HIV leads to stigma, stigma leads to silence, this silence leads to a rapid increase in the number of people living with HIV. Given these conditions, it is hoped that this gel does reach the market, as the impact it could have is incredible.

So let’s focus on inventions like these, and view the glass half full.

Gulika Reddy

[Image courtesy:]