Condom claims questioned

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01 Dec 2014

A new condom that uses an antiviral gel as added protection against HIV may not be quite the revolutionary product its marketing suggests.

The VivaGel condom, developed in Australia and made by pharmaceutical company Starpharma, is the only condom of its kind to incorporate the antiviral compound astodrimer sodium in its lubricant. According to the company’s website blurb, laboratory tests show that it can "inactivate" up to 99.9% of HIV, herpes (HSV) and HPV.

However, experts have voiced scepticism. Writing for The Conversation, Bridget Haire, vice president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), said the VivaGel condom is unlikely to offer any more protection than your average condom: “There is no clinical evidence to support the idea that this new product adds any extra protection from HIV.”

Indeed, from the very little information that has been published on the product, two studies found women experienced mild vaginal inflammation. “This is troubling,” said Haire, “as inflammation can increase the risk of acquiring HIV.”

Also, out of the nine clinical trials listed on Starpharma’s website, none appear to have examined the product for anal use. Furthermore, marketing the condom as “antimicrobial” could have “undesirable effects” said Haire. “In the event of breakage, the false reassurance of the coating may deter a person at risk from seeking post-exposure prophylaxis with anti-HIV drugs.”