While there’s been much discussion of late about the development of vaginal microbicides, activists and researchers at a Cape Town conference are calling for a drastic increase in research into developing rectal microbicides to help prevent HIV infections.

Microbicides – usually produced in the form of a gel or lubricant – aim to kill or hamper the HI virus during sex before it can enter further into the body.

A report, issued at the Microbicides 2006 conference in Cape Town last week, says that while much research has been undertaken on vaginal microbicides, only $34 million has been spent in this area between 2000 and 2006.

Due to physiological differences between the two regions of the body, including a difference in tissue, microbicides developed for use during vaginal sex may not work in the anus. While microbicides could clearly make an impact among men who have anal sex with other men, many heterosexuals also engage in anal sex.

In fact, since there are more heterosexuals in the population, it is thought that there is vastly more anal sexual activity among heterosexuals than homosexuals.

The report states that, “Political marginalization and scientific challenges have sidelined investment into what could be a promising new prevention technology…”

HIV infection can be up to 100 times more efficient during anal sex than in vaginal sex.

In related news, reports say that the number of AIDS related deaths in South African prisons have increased by up to 30% in the last three years.

The matter has come to light once again following court action by inmates at Durban’s Westville Prison who are demanding that the correctional services department provide prisoners with anti-retroviral drugs.

Critics says that the department’s lack of action on the issue, following a number of reports since 1996 alerting authorities to the crisis, is to blame for the situation.

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