Can a New "Tampon" Protect Black Women From HIV?

A new prevention tool could be right around the corner. 

Posted: 08/14/2014 02:27 PM EDT
Can a New "Tampon" Protect Black Women From HIV?

Creating HIV prevention tools for women hasn’t been easy.

Between the rarely used female condom and uncertainty over the future of exisiting microbicides—available in a not-yet-approved gel, for instance, that women could apply themselves to stop HIV transmission—our options are slim. And while male condoms, testing and clean needles tend to be the go-to prevention tools, not all women have control over whether condoms are used; testing and linkage to care isn’t always available or easy; and not every state has legal needle exchange.

Enter a team of researchers from the University of Washington.

They have created a dissolving “tampon” filled with AIDS killing medication as a means to empower women. And according to a new study, this “tampon” could be a game changer.

Filled with fibers and a medication called maraviroc, the tampon may be inserted inside a woman's vagina before she has sex, and it takes only six minutes for it to dissolve into a gel. Also, with this tampon, there’s less leakage than what we’ve seen from older forms of microbicides that tend to take longer and make more of a mess. The better it works, the more women will use it consistently.

Lead researcher Cameron Ball told the Huffington Post that this is great for women who aren’t necessarily planning on having sex. He said, "We want something that dissolves quickly so that people can say, 'Hey, I wasn't planning on it, but I'm going to have sex in five minutes so I need to use this product, and I want it to be completely dissolved before that.”

Another benefit of this tampon is that it doesn’t require for women to have to take a pill every day, something that has raised concerns for those recommended to take PrEP as a means to prevent HIV transmission. PrEP, also referred to as “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” refers to HIV-negative people taking HIV medications every day to stop them from contracting HIV. 

Ball and his team admit that more clinical trials need to be conducted in order for us to know how effective this tampon is in fighting HIV transmission and other STDs, such as herpes. These tampons might also come with fewer side effects, but only time will tell.

Now if this new development lives up to expectations, it would definitely impact the health and lives of African-American women.

While HIV transmission rates among Black women have gone down 21 percent in the past years, Black women still bear the brunt of this epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 32 Black women will test HIV-positive in her life, a rate 15 times higher than for white women. And African-American women account for 64 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV infections among women in the U.S. 

And no, a tampon won’t fix all of our prevention problems. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction for empowering Black women to take control of our health.

Follow Kellee on Twitter @kelleent

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 (Photo: mocker_bat/Getty Images)

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