Eastern Virginia Medical School has received $24 million to finish testing a new contraceptive gel that also fights HIV infection.

The third phase of clinical trials — the last stage before possible Food and Drug Administration approval — will be conducted in India and the African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Uganda and the Republic of South Africa.

Half of the funding came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the other half from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which already is paying for final trials in Nigeria.

The vaginal microbiocide gel, Ushercell, is manufactured by Polydex Pharmaceuticals Limited, a publicly traded Canadian company.

If the gel works and is safe, it could protect millions of women from HIV infection and death from AIDS, said Henry Gabelnick, director of the EVMS contraceptive research program.

"Condoms are the best, but a lot of couples don't use them regularly," Gabelnick said Monday. "Sometimes, women can't negotiate with their men to use the condoms."

Women could easily use the gel with a condom or without one and without their partner knowing about it, Gabelnick said.

Researchers hope the gel will cut HIV infection rates in half among the women that use it in the trials.