A test of an anti-HIV vaginal gel among South African women showed that it can protect them from infection, researchers bared during the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

The gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir, which stops HIV reproduction in immune cells, is now being touted as a potential protection against AIDS for women, though wider trials still need to be completed to ensure it is safe and efficient.

Salim Abdool Karim, one of the two leading co-researchers who disclosed the test results in a teleconference with reporters, said the gel can reduce the number of women getting HIV infection per year to six from 10.

The gel has been in trial for three years. The 445 HIV-negative women who took part in the test applied the gel 12 hours before sex and 12 hours after sex, according to Quarraisha Abdool Karim, also of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in Durban.

Those who used the gel consistently cut the risk of infection by 54 percent and by 39 percent to those who did not use it according to instruction.

The microbicide also halved the risk of herpes simplex virus type 2 or HSV-2, a lifelong and incurable infection.

The result of the test is contained in a study published in the U.S. journal Science.

World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan promised to hasten access to the gel once it is proven to be safe and efficient.

Researchers still has to figure out why the gel become less effective against HIV after 18 months of use.