WHO Directs African Women to Continue Birth Control Injections in Spite of Possible HIV Risk

The World Health Organization released an official statement on Thursday that urged women who have been receiving birth control injections in Africa to continue with this course of action, in spite of the possible increased risk of HIV transmission the shots may encourage.

The number one birth control method in Africa is the hormone shot.  It is a discreet method, and will last months without the burden of pills or creams.  In spite of it’s efficacy, The WHO also suggests that when one partner is infected with HIV condoms should always be used.  There was a study conducted by the Lancet Infectious Diseases that linked the birth control shot to increased (almost doubled)  rates of HIV infection when one partner is already infected with HIV.  This pits African countries in a difficult position.  Unintended pregnancies can be very dangerous and should be avoided.  It is a difficult choice whether someone should be more concerned over an unwanted pregnancy or becoming infected with HIV.

In January of 2012, the WHO brought together a panel of 75 experts from 18 countries to discuss if the birth control shots should continue to be encouraged in spite of this HIV transmission risk.  The panel reviewed all the data available and came to the conclusion that the benefit outweighs the risk when it comes to the birth control shot.

There have been conflicting reports on whether the HIV transmission risk is increased from the shots.  Amy Tsui, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, explained that the studies have not provided enough solid evidence on the link between the hormone shots and HIV infection rates.

“Some of the issues have to do with the usual science banter”, says Tsui.  She insists that the studies have not provided enough solid evidence to either prove or disprove a link between the hormone shots and HIV transmission rates.  While some studies showed a correlation, no studies were designed specifically to test for a link between the two.

While it’s very possible that the risk is real, right now Tsui concludes, “”on the whole it looks safe.”

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1 comment
  1. philipalcabes said:

    The Lancet study that purported to show increased HIV transmission among women who used injectable hormonal contraceptives was pretty questionable, to my mind. You can read the abstract here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099%2811%2970247-X/abstract

    Lots of the women who said they were using contraceptives got pregnant, which makes me suspicious about the accuracy of the data. Other weaknesses in the study are summarized in a great blog post by the brilliant Jodi Jacobson, here: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/10/04/hormonal-contraceptives-weighing-evidence-weighing-risks

    So Kate is right to point out that there’s controversy over interpreting the Lancet report. To me, it’s perfectly understandable that the WHO advisors decided that it isn’t worth changing birth-control policy over one highly questionable study.

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