Monday, October 17, 2011

Can Contraception Increase the Spread of HIV in Africa?

AllAfrica: Dual Protection Will Reduce Risk of HIV Infections
NPR: Popular Contraceptive in Africa Increases HIV Risk
Seattle News: Depo Dangers
Voice of America: Does a Birth Control Method Raise HIV Risk?

The University of Washington recently conducted a study in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe of 3,800 heterosexual couples that had one HIV infected partner. The study revealed that the popular contraceptive shot, Depo Provera, doubles the chance of contracting HIV or passing the virus to the uninfected partner.

The study comprised of measuring the concentration of HIV in genital fluid samples. The study showed that women who had been taking the injection saw the level of HIV concentration in their genital fluid double. The scientists concluded that the likelihood of passing the disease on to the partner increased along with the concentration of the virus. There is still no clear explanation as to why the contraception increases the virus’ concentration.

The World Health Organization, (WHO), stated that it planned to start analyzing the study’s findings, as well as other related, external evidence to figure out whether it would continue to recommend the contraceptive shot. The WHO fears that having to change its stance on the popular contraceptive would reverse some of the progress it has made in convincing African women to use birth control as a means of family planning. The injection is an easy way for African women to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which generally add a financial burden that poor women cannot handle. The reduction of unwanted pregnancies also lowers the number of babies born HIV-positive and in need of costly medical treatment that often is not available. Finally, a lower pregnancy rate saves women’s lives, since poor access to medical services has resulted in high mortality rates for women during childbirth.

Unfortunately, the only way the WHO can verify the study’s findings is to conduct similar tests over longer periods of time. The WHO estimates that the tests would take five years to complete and require about $30 million in funding. The tests would also require women to persuade their male partners to consistently use condoms to limit the rate of infection during the tests—an idea to which African men are sometimes hostile. Despite having limited funds, the WHO is not willing to make such a dramatic shift in its advice to African women without being completely certain that the contraceptive injection truly is dangerous, even if that means spending millions of dollars and five years to prove or disprove the recent test results.

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