According to a groundbreaking study published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a leading medical journal, African women using a popular hormone shot as a contraceptive may face up to double the chance of contracting HIV.
The study was performed by University of Washington researchers and involved 3,800 couples from Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The popular contraceptive is a hormone shot given every three months to prevent pregnancy, but the study showed that women using the affordable and convenient shot might also be doubling their risk of HIV infection.
The study also concluded that when HIV-positive women used the contraceptive, known as Depo-Provera, their male partners are twice as likely to become infected with the disease as well.
Thus, the research suggested that the injectable contraceptive has biological properties that may increase vulnerability to HIV infection in sexually active people.
The study found that women using the hormonal contraception became infected at a rate of 6.61 per 100 person-years, compared with 3.78 for those not using the method.
Researchers only focused on African women, but indicated the same impacts would be prevalent in women of all races.
The research is extremely relevant, as contraceptive injections are a popular method of reducing unwanted pregnancies, particularly in developing countries, where pregnancy-related complications and maternal mortality are an everyday reality for impoverished women.
According to UNICEF, a woman dies from complications in childbirth every minute.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women have a one in 16 chance of dying as a result of pregnancy-related complications prior to, during or post-childbirth.
Many argue that maternal deaths are a result of poor health facilities, sanitation and lack of access to health care.
International organizations have campaigned for women in the sub-Saharan region to use the long-lasting injections as a method of protection.
Therefore, the new study offers grave challenges for international development and maternal mortality experts as this source of pregnancy prevention could be increasing a woman's chance of HIV infection.
Isobel Coleman, the director of the women and foreign policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times, “The best contraception today is injectable hormonal contraception because you don’t need a doctor, it’s long lasting [and] it enables women to control timing and spacing of birth without a lot of fuss and travel.”
She added, “If it is now proven that these contraceptions are helping spread the AIDS epidemic, we have a major health crisis on our hands.”
As a result, scientists are saying that condom use should be emphasized along with other contraceptive methods, especially considering that more than 140 million women worldwide use some form of hormonal contraception.
Furthermore, condoms are key as the injectable hormonal contraception is most widely used in areas where HIV/AIDs is already an epidemic and pregnancy prevention is desperately needed to save the lives of women from pregnancy-related deaths.