A microbicide study involving 11,000 women from six African countries will present its results in November, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told a SA National Aids Council conference on Friday.
"Positive results would add to the tools that women could use to protect themselves from HIV," Motlanthe said at the HIV prevention for women and girls summit in Kempton Park.
"Many women, especially those who live in poor settings, do not have the ability or the knowledge to negotiate safer sex, this despite the fact that we have a Constitution that is deeply rooted in a human rights culture," he said.
Tools to help women protect themselves
"This remains a priority issue and needs to be addressed on all fronts.
"Indeed, the development and implementation of tools that can be used by women to protect themselves, such as microbicides and female condoms is an imperative.
"Let me assure you that government of South Africa will continue to support research into microbicides, as well as to procure and distribute large numbers of female condoms," he said. Microbicides are substances designed to prevent or reduce the sexual transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
Govt acknowledges women’s risk
Motlanthe said the government acknowledged that women were more vulnerable to HIV than men, with almost 60% of all new infections now occurring in women.
"For younger age groups, women could represent up to 76% of all those who are infected," he said.
The disempowerment of women was one of the key drivers of the county's epidemic despite the gains made since 1994, said Motlanthe.
Work harder on societal ills
"We know that poverty, multiple concurrent partners and gender-based violence all contribute to maintaining high infection rates in our country.
"We must work harder together to rid our society of these ills," he said.
Referring to a possible Aids vaccine, Motlanthe said while vaccines were considered gender-neutral, work would have to be done to ensure women had the same access to a vaccine as men.
"This is not a given. In fact, it is not a given that any HIV-prevention tool - even if it is targeted at women and girls - will reach them, unless we make a concerted effort to ensure that it does," he said.
"We shall not rest until women have power over Aids, control over their own bodies and power over their lives," he said.
"Together we can minimise the impact of this dreadful pandemic and ensure that we create conditions for [an] HIV-free generation." – (Sapa, August 2009)
HIV-blocking gel for women