Challenges to microbicide introduction in South Africa

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Qualitative research was conducted in South Africa to determine perceptions about intra-vaginal microbicides in order to better understand the socioeconomic, cultural and structural contexts for the support of future introduction of this new HIV prevention method. Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were conducted at community, health service, and policy levels of inquiry. The main study site was a black working class urban area close to Cape Town. "Desperation" in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, rape, sexual coercion and unplanned consensual sex emerged as major reasons to support microbicides, while concerns about the partial effectiveness of microbicide protection and its hypothetical nature elicited a more cautious approach. Other key findings included the likelihood that microbicides would be "mainstream", the possible impact on sexual practices and gender norms, issues of condom substitution/migration and potential avenues for education and distribution. We found that microbicides have the potential to meet diverse needs beyond that suggested by prior research. This included a desire for products that could protect against HIV infection following rape, sexual coercion and unplanned sex, and the finding that a wider range of people than previously suggested would potentially use microbicides. The challenge for microbicide introduction will be to develop products that can meet diverse needs not only in South Africa, but also in the broader global context.