Peering Into the Future of Prevention

By Anne Brosowsky-Roth and Meghan Benson, MPH, CHES


By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:

1. Describe how microbicides might work to prevent disease transmission.

2. Explain why the development of microbicides is important in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.


Microbicides are gels, creams, films, suppositories and other products that reduce a healthy person’s chances of a getting sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as HIV, during sex. Right now, the only products available for protection against STIs, such as HIV, are physical barriers — male and female condoms and latex barriers. While research to develop microbicides is ongoing, there are no commercially available products on the market today.

Physical barriers offer broad protection against a variety of STIs, including HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, as well as pregnancy. Microbicides may only offer protection against one STI or many STIs, and may or may not also act as spermicides.

To create a microbicide that people want to use, researchers must develop not only the active ingredient but also a product that is socially acceptable, affordable and easy to apply. The ideal microbicide will provide immediate protection against many STIs, and last for several days or even weeks at a time. Ideally, microbicides would not cause discomfort or irritation, and would be available in spermicidal and non-spermicidal forms. This lesson will introduce participants to microbicides, and allow them to compare the potential efficacy of microbicides to that of other methods of STI prevention.

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