In a recent important scientific discovery, bioengineers at the University of Washington have developed a new dissolvable tampon that delivers antiretrovirals prior to sex meant to protect against HIV. The tampons are designed to be an alternative for women at high risk of HIV from contracting the virus. Inserted prior to sex, the tampons are designed to dissolve the medicine within six minutes. Oral medication and gels have been available to high risk women but are rarely used due to inconvenience. This invention has the potential to reduce this burden and allow women greater protection before sex. The method used to create this fabric is revolutionary and has a potential to be used in other key discoveries.
One potential problem for these tampons is that many women in high HIV areas of the world don’t use tampons. Areas of the world with the highest HIV infection rates today are Southern Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of South America. While there isn’t a handy map of where tampons are used around the world, travel blogs illustrate that outside of major cities, tampons are virtually non-existent. Women often use pads or other more traditional technics in menstruation.
Will this breakthrough medicine, designed to help those in high risk areas, be used by those in high risk parts of the world? Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to determine whether women will adopt a strategy uncommon to their region. While this shouldn’t lessen the value this development will bring to the fight against HIV, it’s an important reminder that scientists must remember to ask whether their product will be used by it’s intended audience or whether their is an additional barrier to usage that will need to be overcome.