By Emily Withers
Financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation means that Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will be developing a new contraceptive patch for poor countries.
The patch, which will provide an alternative to less discreet contraceptives, will be made of micro-needles which will painlessly administer a hormonal dose into the skin.
The School have been working with this technology for years, using it to administer drugs and vaccines, which is one of the reasons that they were approached to take on this project. They are in partnership with other industry experts, Edinburgh University, NHS trusts, NGOs and charitable bodies, and the University of Malawi.
Access to contraception, which is often taken for granted here in Wales, is significantly less accessible in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a consequence, around 220-million women who do not wish to get pregnant do not have the necessary access to contraceptives which will allow them to control this.
An additional hurdle to existing methods of contraception, such as the implant, is the societal expectation on African men to have larger families. This leads to stigma surrounding contraception and a dislike of the implant, which can be seen and felt under the skin.
Researchers hope that the development of this new technology will help to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the world’s poorest countries and empower more women to choose if and when they get pregnant. This will positively impact the education and health of young women across Sub-Saharan Africa.
The funding received by Cardiff University will initially only cover a feasibility period of 18 months, where pre-clinical tests will determine how the patch will work, including aspects such as design, application, administration and accessibility.
If successful, Cardiff University may then receive more funding from the Foundation to cover clinical development of the patch, and further trials. Ultimately, the team hope that the patch will be available within the next five years.
Wales will also benefit from this new form of contraception, as there is a global plan in place to allow the patch to be subsidised and provided to the world’s poorest countries.