Johannesburg-based Kiara Health will begin producing HIV-protective vaginal rings, marking a major advancement in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
AIDS experts applaud the potential impact of the move, which is expected to improve the affordability and accessibility of the vital preventative measure.
Nearly a dozen nations as well as the World Health Organisation have approved the silicone rings, which release the medication dapivirine.
The rights to the rings, which are currently being made by a Swedish company, belong to the nonprofit Population Council. Kiara Health wants to be a key player in solving the urgent healthcare issue, with an estimated yearly production capacity of one million.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, women in Africa can now obtain approximately 500,000 rings for free. The U.N. AIDS agency's spokesperson, Ben Phillips, stressed the ring's discreet design, giving women the freedom to wear it without anyone else's knowledge or consent.
He emphasised how important it is for women whose partners might not want them to use condoms or approve of them taking oral HIV preventive medications.
With HIV being the primary cause of death for women in Africa who are of reproductive age, the virus continues to pose a serious threat to the continent. Women report 60% of new infections, highlighting the critical need for easily available and efficient preventive measures.
The dapivirine medication's slow-release mechanism, which lasts for a month, presents a promising way to stop the spread of HIV. While it is currently priced between $12 and $16, analysts predict that as mass production occurs in Africa, the price will drop.
In an effort to further reduce annual costs, developers are also actively working on an extended version that can last up to three months.
The ring is an additional tool that the World Health Organisation has approved for use by women who are "substantially risk of HIV." More than a dozen African nations, including South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, have given their regulatory approval.
WHO's approval is based on cutting-edge research showing a one-third decrease in women's HIV risk, with additional studies suggesting an even more significant risk reduction approaching 50%.
During a protest at the largest AIDS conference last year, activists fervently defended the cause and pleaded with donors to help provide silicone rings for underprivileged African women.
With Kiara Health's upcoming mass production, the global battle against HIV/AIDS is poised for a promising turning point that could lead to more affordable and accessible preventive measures.