What We're Reading: New Studies on Contraception and HIV
October 7, 2011
This week, we’re reading about new HIV/AIDS research that raises concerns about a link between injected contraceptive use and HIV transmission.
A recent study, published earlier this week in the British medical journal, The Lancet,
followed a group of nearly 3,800 discordant couples – meaning that one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative – around Africa for two years to determine whether a correlation exists between the use of injected contraceptives and an increased risk of HIV transmission.
Women waiting at a clinic in Swaziland (Photo: EGPAF/James Pursey)
First presented at the sixth International AIDS Society conference in July
, the study found that injectable hormones may double women’s risk of contracting HIV and passing the virus on to their male partners. Results from the study, published separately, also showed that pregnant women were particularly vulnerable to HIV, and may be twice as likely to contract the virus.
Injected contraceptives or hormonal shots are one of the most popular methods of birth control in Africa – they are easy-to-use, provide lasting coverage, and are widely available. For many women, injected contraceptives provide longer-term protection and require only a simple injection every three months. And while the New York Times reports
that the study involved only African women, its implications could be universal.
According to PBS NewsHour
, the research results raise serious questions among policymakers about how to move forward. The findings spurred the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for a technical review
of this research at a meeting in January 2012 to determine what additional guidance or analysis may be needed.
According to UNAIDS
, the study findings should be compared to the results of previous studies – some of which have shown little to no connection between contraception use and HIV transmission. UNAIDS recommends further analysis and research on this issue in order to better guide policy and programs.
A commentary in The Lancet
looks at the study in more detail and outlines its strengths and weaknesses, stating that “any potential increase in HIV risk with hormonal contraception must be considered in context.”
The commentary goes on to warn that “limiting one of the most highly used effective methods of contraception in sub-Saharan Africa would probably contribute to increased maternal mortality and morbidity and more low birth weight babies and orphans – an equally tragic result.”
An article in Voice of America
emphasizes the study’s focus on injected contraceptives compared to other methods of hormonal contraception, which includes both pills and injections. The article highlights the need for more research on birth control pills and stresses the importance of women’s consistent use of condoms in combination with hormonal contraceptives in order to reduce the risk of HIV.
also reports how the study results could affect health services in Africa and outlines current efforts of some countries, like Uganda and South Africa, to strengthen and improve family planning.
As the research findings suggest, the potential link between contraception and HIV is an issue that must be addressed. More research is likely needed to determine how best to provide women around the world with the family planning services they need, while also protecting them from HIV.
Jen Pollakusky is a Senior Public Policy and Advocacy Officer based in Washington, D.C.