Hormonal contraceptives, promoted in developed nations, put health at risk, says a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Sonal Matharu talks to Jared Baeten, professor, department of global health, University of Washington, about the study
How does use of hormonal contraceptives affect a woman’s health?
It puts them at the risk of contracting HIV. For two years, we followed women who were not infected by HIV—some were using hormonal contraceptives and some were not. During the study, we observed that of the fresh HIV infections, the number was double among women using hormonal contraceptives. This implies women using the hormonal birth control method may be experiencing biological changes making them more susceptible to HIV.
What could be the implications of the study?
Hormonal contraceptives do not protect against HIV infection. In fact, they may increase the risk of men acquiring it. Our finding highlights that it is important that men use condoms to prevent HIV infection even if their partners use hormonal contraception to prevent pregnancy.
How widespread is the use of hormonal contraception in the seven African countries you studied?
Among the women we studied, 14.8 per cent of HIV uninfected women and 17.4 per cent of HIV infected women were regular users of hormonal contraception. During the study period, 20.9 per cent of HIV uninfected women and 32.9 per cent of HIV infected women had used hormonal contraception at least once.
How can the findings help change the existing family planning and HIV prevention programmes?
Our results highlight the need for men to be counselled about the importance of using condoms. The World Health Organization will organise a meeting early 2012 to review the findings of the study and other similar studies to confirm if women are more at risk of acquiring HIV when they are using hormonal contraception.
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