A major study has found that a hormonal contraceptive widely used in Africa appears to double a woman’s chance of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The study also suggests that when HIV-positive women used the injectable contraceptive, their male partners were twice as likely to become infected compared to male partners of women who had used no contraception.
The report was published this week in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Most of the women tested in the study used the contraceptive Depo-Provera.
In the report, scientists said the findings present a dilemma regarding health policy for sub-Saharan Africa.
Health organizations have been promoting injectable hormones as a convenient, cost-effective and affordable form of birth control in the region. The method is far more popular among African women than oral contraceptives.
Scientists cautioned that while the hormonal injections may increase vulnerability to HIV infection, limiting its use could lead to an increase in maternal mortality, low-birth weight babies and other health problems.
The study was led by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle , who followed nearly 3,800 heterosexual couples in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Researchers followed them for about two years and in each case, just one partner was HIV-positive.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region of the world most heavily affected by HIV. The United Nations estimates that more than 22 million people in the region are living with the virus.