The reliability and validity of self-reports of vaginal microbicide use are questionable given the explicit understanding that participants are expected to comply with study protocols. Our objective was to optimize the Population Council's previously validated dye stain assay (DSA) and related procedures, and establish predictive values for the DSA's ability to identify vaginally inserted single-use, low-density polyethylene microbicide applicators filled with hydroxyethylcellulose gel.
Applicators, inserted by 252 female sex workers enrolled in a microbicide feasibility study in Southern India, served as positive controls for optimization and validation experiments. Prior to validation, optimal dye concentration and staining time were ascertained. Three validation experiments were conducted to determine sensitivity, specificity, negative predictive values and positive predictive values.
The dye concentration of 0.05% (w/v) FD&C Blue No. 1 Granular Food Dye and staining time of five seconds were determined to be optimal and were used for the three validation experiments. There were a total of 1,848 possible applicator readings across validation experiments; 1,703 (92.2%) applicator readings were correct. On average, the DSA performed with 90.6% sensitivity, 93.9% specificity, and had a negative predictive value of 93.8% and a positive predictive value of 91.0%. No statistically significant differences between experiments were noted.
The DSA was optimized and successfully validated for use with single-use, low-density polyethylene applicators filled with hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) gel. We recommend including the DSA in future microbicide trials involving vaginal gels in order to identify participants who have low adherence to dosing regimens. In doing so, we can develop strategies to improve adherence as well as investigate the association between product use and efficacy.