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Birth control injections could contribute to spread of HIV

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Summary of story from the Guardian, October 4, 2011

Campaigns to encourage women to use long-lasting contraceptive injections in regions affected by AIDS could contribute to the spread of the epidemic, scientists are warning.

According to a study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, women who use hormonal contraceptives may double their risk of contracting HIV and of passing it on to their partner.

The research presents a significant problem for global health and development. Unwanted pregnancy can be a threat to a woman’s life, and larger families can contribute to greater poverty and deprivation, and lower levels of education.

Some parts of the developing world are resistant to family planning, but campaigns to promote the use of contraceptive injections for women have had some success.

However, the study of 3,800 couples supports previously unconfirmed suspicions that the risk of HIV transmission is increased by the injections most popular in the sub-Saharan areas worst affected by AIDS.

The researchers found that women using hormonal contraception were twice as likely to be infected by their partner if they did not have HIV. Those who did were twice as likely to give it to their partner.

Tests showed that women with HIV using injectable contraception had raised concentrations of virus inside the cervix. Researchers are unclear why and a larger study specifically designed to look at this issue should be carried out, they say.

The authors of the study call for urgent guidance to be drawn up for women using family planning services in AIDS-affected areas.

Women should be informed that hormonal contraception may increase the risk of HIV transmission, and should be counselled that condoms will give them dual protection.

In a comment published by the journal, Charles Morrison from Clinical Sciences, Durham, USA, said that “contributing to the HIV epidemic” and “increased maternal mortality and morbidity” would be equally tragic results.

  1. Has the US changed its policy on promoting condom use yet?

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