By Charlotte Young
New research is casting a discouraging outlook for health experts in HIV prevention and family planning. NPR reports that a recent study reveals that the most popular form of contraception in Southern Africa has failed substantially. In fact, it’s creating a more devastating reality for those who use it. In response, the World Health Organization is calling together experts in efforts to find determine the validity of the study.
The contraception, used by 12 million African women in Southern Africa, is an injection which supposedly lasts up to three months. But the new study observes that not only has it fallen short in its effectiveness, women who use this form of birth control are twice as likely to become HIV positive and pass the virus onto their male partners, in comparison to women not using this particular contraception.
The study is published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. While previous studies have implicated similar contraceptives in HIV/AIDS infection risk increase for twenty years, results were mixed, flawed or too small to be considered accurate. The new study combines research from almost 4,000 couples in seven African countries.
“When I see a two times higher risk, that’s a high risk. It’s a doubling of the chances that a woman would acquire HIV, or, in the case of an infected woman, that she would pass the virus to her partner,” Dr. Jared Baeten, author of the study told NPR.
But despite his findings, WHO representatives and other health experts refuse to believe that the study’s results are conclusive. Dr. Charles Morrison of the public health management nonprofit FHI 360 says that recent media coverage in Africa has gone too far. He’s worried that the publicized results of this study will over-dramatize situation.
“The opposite side of the coin would also be tragic: to have a rollback in the numbers of women using effective contraception to avoid unintended pregnancy and to avoid all those other bad outcomes that can come with an unintended pregnancy in Africa,” Morrison said.
WHO representative Mary Lyn Gaffield discloses that the agency plans to look closely at the study as well as the entire body of evidence to avoid a risk in harming women’s sexual and reproductive health either way. The group will hold a conference on the issue in January to further study the new research as well as past results.
In order to create a more concrete foundation for the study’s findings, researchers may need to implement a larger-scale study on the subject. The study would carry a $30 million price tag and involve 5,000 women participants drawn at random. Results would not be conclusive for five years. In the meantime, experts suggest that the millions of African women using the injectable contraceptives should stick to condoms.