Are women who take hormonal contraceptives at an increased risk of acquiring HIV? If so, do some contraceptives put women at higher risk than others?
This week, the influential health journal, PLOS Medicine, published the results of a large individual-participant data meta-analysis, authored by FHI 360 and collaborators, that seeks to answer these questions.
While this issue matters to the field of reproductive health, it is especially critical to women in East and Southern Africa. In these regions, women potentially have a double risk factor: high rates of HIV and high use of hormonal contraception, particularly depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), a type of contraceptive that is injected every three months. So far, the evidence on DMPA shows that it is the hormonal contraceptive that has the most potential to increase HIV acquisition; however, the evidence is inconclusive.
FHI 360’s meta-analysis combines the results of 18 prospective studies, including more than 37,000 women, of whom more than 1,800 became infected with HIV. We found that women who used DMPA had a 50 percent increased risk of HIV acquisition compared with women who did not use hormonal contraceptives. We found no significant increase in HIV risk among women using combined oral contraceptives (COCs) or norethisterone enanthate (Net-En), a contraceptive injected every two months. Women using DMPA also had an increased HIV risk when compared directly with COC or Net-En users.