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Drug-infused vaginal ring shows promising signs in battle against HIV rates

Silicone ring containing antiretroviral dapivirine drug could play an important role in preventing HIV infections.

A medicated anti-viral vaginal ring has been found to reduce the rate of HIV infection in women through trials conducted in Africa, where HIV is prevalent.

Two separate studies used this experimental form of prevention, which sees women insert the ring containing dapivirine, an antiretroviral drug that hinders HIV, which is slowly released over time. Each silicone ring lasts 30 days and can be replaced with a new one.

The first study, funded by NGO International Partnership for Microbicides, found that the risk of HIV infection dropped by 31 per cent among the 1,959 South African and Ugandan participants.

The second study included 2,629 women in Sub-Saharan Africa, and found the rate of infection for those using the dapivirine rings decreased by 27 per cent compared with those given placebo rings. However, the prevention rate was higher among women aged over 21, at 61 per cent, as they were more inclined to use the ring more often and return every month to have it replaced. In both studies, the ring offered no significant protection to those under 21.

HIV remains one of the great global health challenges. According to WHO, almost 37m are living with the disease, over half of whom are women. Previous trials haven't been as successful, as they involved antiviral pills and vaginal gels, which weren't used as frequently by the women. The silicone ring doesn't require any additional medication or procedures apart from the initial insertion and monthly replacements.

As the New York Times notes, a reason why the ring was popular is because it doesn't require the women to have their partner's permission or cooperation to use it. Men can refuse to wear condoms, prevent their partners from taking antiretroviral pills or using vaginal gels, all of which would also reduce rates of HIV infection when used properly.

During the trials, dapivirine levels were measured both in the women's blood and silicone ring to see if they had been used as instructed. This is incredibly important as dapivirine was only effective when the ring was used at all times.

The researchers said they will investigate why the ring wasn't effective for those under 21, while also looking into potential uses of the ring to carry other forms of treatment, such as contraception.

Emad Ahmed writes about science and gaming. He tweets @ThisIsEmad.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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