Australian scientists say that a newly developed “natural condom” treatment could protect against HIV infection.

The researchers, from the University of Melbourne, claim that applying a cream, containing the female hormone oestrogen to the penis on a weekly basis will result in a thickening of the natural layer of the protein keratin on the penis.

They say that this could provide a “protective layer” which could offer a defence against HIV infection.

“…this simple, cheap, readily available natural hormone could create a living barrier to HIV,” say the scientists in their report, which has been published in the Public Library of Science medical journal.

“The oestrogen treatment could be an invaluable adjunct or alternative to surgical circumcision for reducing the incidence of HIV infection in men.”

While circumcision has been shown to halve the risk of HIV infection in three large trials of heterosexual men in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, it’s unknown if this finding is applicable to anal sex.

The researchers add that whilst male circumcision is effective, implementing it is a daunting task in countries like India, China and most of South-East Asia where it is culturally unacceptable.

In such cases, “topical oestrogen could provide a medical alternative to circumcision to reduce HIV infection. Oestrogen cream could even be used as a condom lubricant that might ultimately protect the man and the woman.”

The treatment would not be effective against other STIs or in preventing pregnancy. It is also not known if it would be equally effective in vaginal and anal sex.

Clinical trials, expected to take place in Africa, are still needed before the researchers can confirm their hypothesis.

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