11 October 2002, SA scientists cautious over lemonAids claims,

By Patrick Leeman

Many Durban researchers and Aids activists are taking a claim from an Australian scientist that lemons can provide a cheap and easy-to-use method of preventing Aids and unwanted pregnancies in developing countries "with a pinch of salt".

The scientist, reproductive physiologist Roger Short, from the obstetrics department of the University of Melbourne, said on Australian television that laboratory tests had shown that lemon juice killed both sperm and the Aids virus.

He said contraceptives and anti-HIV medication could prove too costly in developing countries and there were often cultural barriers to their use.

Short said lemons were almost universally available and could be easily used by squeezing juice on to a piece of sponge or cotton wool and placing it into the vagina before sex.

Dr Ames Dhai, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine of the University of Natal in Durban, said she queried whether it would be ethical to undertake trials of this nature.

She said the high level of acidity might damage the vaginal lining and allow an entry point for HIV.

Dr Dhai said she believed that the development of current medical trials in the fields of microbicides (spermicides and gel-like substances inserted into the vagina to offset the chance of acquiring HIV) was the correct route to go before "running wild" with other untested practices.

The director of the Aids Foundation in KwaZulu, Debbie Mathew, said the astringent nature of lemon juice could be harmful to the women concerned in such a study.

So-called "dry" sex, which was a type of sexual intercourse favoured among certain communities in South Africa, held considerable risks in terms of abrasions and tearing of the vaginal wall.

These practices created a higher than normal risk that the woman partner could become infected with HIV.

Mathew supported the view that trials with microbicides constituted the correct channel at present for researchers working in this area.