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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.

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn: “wholesale” EU immigration has destroyed conditions for British workers

The Labour leader has told Andrew Marr that his party wants to leave the single market.

Mass immigration from the European Union has been used to "destroy" the conditions of British workers, Jeremy Corbyn said today. 

The Labour leader was pressed on his party's attitude to immigration on the Andrew Marr programme. He reiterated his belief that Britain should leave the Single Market, claiming that "the single market is dependent on membership of the EU . . . the two things are inextricably linked."

Corbyn said that Labour would argue for "tarriff-free trade access" instead. However, other countries which enjoy this kind of deal, such as Norway, do so by accepting the "four freedoms" of the single market, which include freedom of movement for people. Labour MP Chuka Umunna has led a parliamentary attempt to keep Britain in the single market, arguing that 66 per cent of Labour members want to stay. The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon said that "Labour's failure to stand up for common sense on single market will make them as culpable as Tories for Brexit disaster".

Laying out the case for leaving the single market, Corbyn used language we have rarely heard from him - blaming immigration for harming the lives of British workers.

The Labour leader said that after leaving the EU, there would still be European workers in Britain and vice versa. He added: "What there wouldn't be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry." 

Corbyn said he would prevent agencies from advertising jobs in central Europe - asking them to "advertise in the locality first". This idea draws on the "Preston model" adopted by that local authority, of trying to prioritise local suppliers for public sector contracts. The rules of the EU prevent this approach, seeing it as discrimination. 

In the future, foreign workers would "come here on the basis of the jobs available and their skill sets to go with it. What we wouldn't allow is this practice by agencies, who are quite disgraceful they way they do it - recruit a workforce, low paid - and bring them here in order to dismiss an existing workforce in the construction industry, then pay them low wages. It's appalling. And the only people who benefit are the companies."

Corbyn also said that a government led by him "would guarantee the right of EU nationals to remain here, including a right of family reunion" and would hope for a reciprocal arrangement from the EU for British citizens abroad. 

Matt Holehouse, the UK/EU correspondent for MLex, said Corbyn's phrasing was "Ukippy". 

Asked by Andrew Marr if he had sympathy with Eurosceptics - having voted against previous EU treaties such as Maastricht - Corbyn clarified his stance on the EU. He was against a "deregulated free market across Europe", he said, but supported the "social" aspects of the EU, such as workers' rights. However, he did not like its opposition to state subsidy of industry.

On student fees, Corbyn was asked "What did you mean by 'I will deal with it'?". He said "recognised" that graduates faced a huge burden from paying off their fees but did not make a manifesto commitment to forgive the debt from previous years. However, Labour would abolish student debt from the time it was elected. Had it won the 2017 election, students in the 2017/18 intake would not pay fees (or these would be refunded). 

The interview also covered the BBC gender pay gap. Corbyn said that Labour would look at a gender pay audit in every company, and a pay ratio - no one could receive more than 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employee. "The BBC needs to look at itself . . . the pay gap is astronomical," he added. 

He added that he did not think it was "sustainable" for the government to give the DUP £1.5bn and was looking forward to another election.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.