A comparative study of students' attitudes, preferences and acceptance levels towards microbicide products : the tenofovir gel and the dapivirine ring at UKZN.
Despite vast efforts to curb HIV and AIDS, the global epidemic has evolved over the past three decades, with Southern Africa1 proving to be the epicentre of the epidemic. Unlike women in other parts of the world, statistics show that African women are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection, with women between the ages of 15 to 24 twice more likely to be infected then men in Southern Africa. Female vulnerability to HIV infection is exacerbated by various factors including social, cultural, economic and biological factors. Microbicides are biomedical technologies that are designed to give women some degree of control in prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Microbicides refer to antiretroviral-based substances: they are biomedical tools which could empower women who cannot negotiate safe sex practices and as such, they have the potential to change the landscape of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. However, there are no microbicide products that have been licenced and made available for women to use as they are still undergoing clinical trials. There is a dearth of research of female perceptions, attitudes and possible acceptance levels of microbicides as HIV prevention methods. This dissertation provides a small-scale comparative study of two microbicide products; the tenofovir gel and dapivirine ring. This study investigates UKZN female students’ perceptions, attitudes and acceptance levels towards microbicides as HIV prevention methods. By employing a culture-centred approach, this dissertation seeks to reach a holistic understanding of female students’ preferences towards HIV prevention methods for the purpose of knowing what potential users of microbicides desire and need. A mixed method approach formed the methodological basis of this research study: two focus group discussions with UKZN female students were conducted, and 100 self-administered questionnaires were used to collect data. Thematic analysis was used to develop themes that emerged from the data collected. Key findings from the questionnaire revealed that a high percentage (62%) of female students asserted that they would use microbicides if they were available as HIV prevention methods; 66% of the female respondents stipulated that they would prefer using the tenofovir gel as opposed to the dapivirine ring. Female students indicated that microbicides must be available in other forms. It was concluded that the formulation in which microbicides are developed is important: product characteristic will influence acceptability of the products as well as adherence. Cultural issues will impact the acceptance and uptake of microbicides. It was also discovered that male involvement in microbicide development might foster better acceptance and uptake of these biomedical tools.