New research based on a large study has found that women given a hormone contraceptive injection of Depo Provera every three months, appears to double the risk they will become infected with HIV. Not only that, but when it is used by HIV positive women, their male partners are twice as likely to become infected than if the women had used no contraception at all.
While at least two other rigorous studies have found that injectable contraceptives increase the risk of women’s acquiring HIV, the new research findings potentially present an alarming quandary for international health authorities for whom finding affordable and convenient contraceptives is a pressing goal, particularly for women in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of them suffer injuries, bleeding, infections and even death in childbirth from unintended pregnancies. Sadly, it is also the case that many countries where pregnancy rates are highest are also ravaged by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Nor is this a small scale problem or confined just to Africa. Injectable hormones are very popular with around 12 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 6 percent of all women in that age group use them. In the United States, it is 1.2 million, or 3 percent of women using contraception, and estimated as slightly less in the UK and Europe. Although the study involved only African women, scientists said the biological effects would probably be the same for all women.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Washington and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, involved 3,800 couples in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It flags up yet again dangers associated with synthetic hormones instead of bio-identical natural ones.
The injectable contraceptive being used was Depo–Provera which contains the active ingredient medroxyprogesterone acetate, which is a synthetic form of progesterone. Pfizer, the manufacturer of Depo-Provera, declined to comment on the study, saying officials had not yet read it.
The study has prompted the World Health Organization to convene a meeting in January to consider if evidence is now strong enough to advise women that the method may increase their risk of getting or transmitting HIV.