According to the researchers if current trials are satisfactory, a safe and effective gel which protects women from the AIDS virus may be available by 2010.
At an international conference in Cape Town more than 1,000 scientists are meeting to study microbicides which when used as a gel or cream, release an active ingredient designed to kill HIV during sexual intercourse.
Health officials are optimistic that the microbe-killing vaginal gels will have the potential to stem the epidemic in societies, especially in Africa, where women are hard hit by the disease as men are often reluctant to use condoms.
Apparently five separate clinical trials are being conducted involving 12,000 people in South Africa and thousands in other countries such as India, and results should be available in the next two years.
The technology has taken 15 years to develop and is considered by many to be the most productive area of research into HIV and AIDS.
Microbicides have been found to be effective in the laboratory, and to have no significant side effects.
According to U.N. figures, HIV infection is rising more rapidly among women than men in many parts of the world and as many as 50% of all adults living with the virus that causes AIDS are female.
Africa has more than 25 million of the almost 40 million people estimated to be infected around the world, and women make up 60 percent of infections, with most acquired through heterosexual intercourse.
Strong cultural resistance still exists on the continent against the use of condoms and there are reportedly 1,400 new infections every day.
With 6 million infected with HIV, South Africa has the highest number of any country and it has been predicted that 2.5 million more may become infected by 2010.
The majority of the money for the research has come from the U.S. and British governments, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There has been little evidence of interest from drug companies as most AIDS patients are in the developing world where money to spend on such products is scant.
The conference co-sponsored by the World Health Organization.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD