Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Feminism, HIV/AIDS, South Africa

South African HIV Prevention Gel may put Black lives at risk

How safe is the “miracle HIV Prevention Gel” announced at the recent World AIDS conference in Vienna? The vaginal gel produced in South Africa is supposed to reduce a woman’s chances of HIV contraction by as much as 39% and reduce chances of Herpes infection by 51%. Quite staggering claims. However the gel may not be the saviour in waiting as proclaimed by it’s producers. South African writer and land rights activist, Andile Mngxitama has challenged these claims which include “empowering women” and calls into question both the ethics of the research and the interpretation of the findings.

There are shocking ethical questions the study raises and I’m told that the medical science fraternity and people who are concerned with ethics have not raised their voices.

For starters, the study was conducted in the most depressed areas. Women who participated in the study can be said to be a “vulnerable group”. This means issues of consent become very tricky.

Did the women know the full implications of subjecting themselves to the study? Why was the study not conducted in urban areas with white middle- class women?

Just imagine this, the study had to find almost a thousand black vulnerable women who are HIV-negative and then wait for a “statistical significant” number of them to become HIV-positive in order to draw conclusions.

This callousness and disrespect for black lives is shocking.

The women were divided into two groups without them knowing who was protected and who wasnt and at the end of the study 60 % of the women were found to be HIV Positive. How many of the women are positive as a result of believing they were safe with the gel? How can a gel be marketed as a safe women empowering prevention if more than half who tested it are now positive?

It seems that it’s either these women were used as lab rats and discarded, and this was on the basis of the assumption that they were going to be HIV-positive anyway. So the 40percent that is said to have been “protected” are saved!

No one asked a simple question – if these women were recruited from high-risk HIV areas, how did they stay negative for as long as they did? Would this not have been a more ethical study than subjecting people to such risks?

Medical science genocide is allowed against the weak historically, but when the weak are blacks then it doesn’t really matter.

The idea of a gel that prevents transmission of HIV operates in the same logic of circumcision as HIV prevention methods. These methods are encouraged among blacks.

South Africa has now joined the United States in using highly questionaable research methods and Black people as guinea pigs. Andile has now been censored as a South African HIV organisation Section 27  has written to his employers, Foundation for Human Rights, who have now asked him to make no further comment on the matter until investigations are complete. So much for free speech and the right to challenge science and the establishment.   But thank goodness someone dared to question the nature of the research and its finding rather than jump on the bandwagon – there is money to be made here, huge sums of money.

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  1. Imnakoya

    Why Andile would make this comment is understandable, however, it is hasty, and a display of lack of scientific know-how of how clinical trials are conducted. The findings of the trial suggest the gel formulation may offer some good. This is the first step. The drug is far from finished and can't be bought or prescribed for use. Not yet. The target population for the trial was high risk women, and statistics shows black women aged 18-40 carried a disproportionate burden HIV/AIDS in South Africa. So to ask why the study wasn't done among middle-class white women is off point. To bring race — and genocide–into this science is really not logical.

    Of course several people have questioned the methodology of the study, but that is not unusual in the field of clinical trials. What needs to be done now is to subject the findings under more rigorous test and see if it can be generalized under more typical conditions.

    In closing, study subjects are blindly and randomly allocated into groups — those that receives the intervention (drug) and those that receives the placebo. And most time the researcher has no idea who is getting what. There are very strict well articulated conditions for clinical trials, and the researchers are well aware of this; a violation of any renders their findings invalid.

  2. Sokari

    Imnakoya@ Even if you are right the fact that 60% of women became HIV+ is highly worrying. If the reliability of the drug is so low then using it does put lives at risk. Nonetheless based on what I understand of the trial I still believe it is ethically questionable.

  3. Imnakoya

    “the reliability of the drug is so low…”? I would not call a 50% reduction in HIV infection rate low?

    This is a promising finding that should be well researched, the burden of HIV/AIDS is too huge to distracted by allegations that have not been proven.

  4. Why not the ethical person or medical researcher not raised their voices? I think this remains further examination is needed of the microbicide's security and efficacy before it can be unconfined to the public, experts cautioned.

  5. Iany

    Good Lord.
    The lack of concern for the women involved is staggering, that's the sort of thing you just wouldn't /get/ ethics approval for if the case study group were white women (or, any women or men by my country's ethical standards, standards I imagine are held in the US and elsewhere as well).
    They were exploited and the study they were involved in wasn't even conducted under the sorts of conditions where you could reasonably take anything from that data. And it is data that should not be used, in any case, due to how it was obtained.

    All that and the gel is effectively useless, its questionable efficacy is too low to be useful and may actually have a counter effect of reducing the use of more effective methods like condom use (other semi-effective methods actually include regular testing and transparency about HIV status, something which has had a certain amount of success in groups of gay men whose status was monitored with their consent, although syphilis rates also increased).

  6. thobile nontenja

    mr mngxitama i would like to attend the imbizo but have no family in soweto.would like to know if the are transport for the poor black african like myself , i am willing to do work to pay you mngxitama i believe that i can also contribute ,my numbers are 0789652558.i have read some of work and i believe in your cause.carry with you into the world a vision of a new africa , a new africa , an africa reborn , an africa rejuvinated, an africa recreated , young africa .