Source: Nairobi Star
BY JOHN MUCHANGI
Thursday, 06 October 2011
The government has advised women to continue using injectable contraceptives because they are still effective in preventing pregnancy. A new study conducted in Kenya and six other African countries showed the injectables double the risk of women contracting HIV, and also increase the risk of HIV-positive users infecting their male partners.
Director of Public Health Shahnaaz Sharif yesterday said women should still use the birth control method while the government waits for direction from the World Health Organisation. “For us the injectables are perfectly safe and until the WHO advises, we cannot advise otherwise,” he said yesterday.
The WHO will convene a meeting next January to consider if the evidence is strong enough to advise women against the popular contraceptives. Results of the study are published in the British medical journal The Lancet and involved 3,800 couples from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia.
Dr Sharif said they are studying the methodology used to establish if the results can be generalized to include the entire population. “This is because there were previous studies which did not show increase in HIV among women using contraceptives,” he said. Dr Sharif said family planning is still the best way to control HIV infection, because other studies have shown that the risk of HIV increases with pregnancy.
Head of reproductive health department Dr Isaac Bashir said the current study is not conclusive and expressed fear that some women might be swayed to stop the injectables. The injectables are used by 48 per cent of married women who practice family planning in Kenya, according to the 2008 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.
About 16 per cent prefer the pill for family planning while women using traditional methods account for about 13 per cent. Injectables are popular because they are convenient and women using Depo provera, for instance, need only one injection every three months. Scientists are not certain why the hormone shots would make it easier to get infected with and transmit HIV, but said it could be that the high dose of progestin contained in those contraceptives causes a thinning of vaginal tissue, making it easier for viruses to enter and exit.
The study dismissed suggestions that women on birth control often are careless in using condoms for protection. It however raises concerns because women are disproportionally affected by HIV in Kenya. The Kenya Aids Control Council says in 2008/09 HIV prevalence among women was twice as high as that of men at 8 per cent and 4.3 percent respectively. This disparity is even greater in young women aged 15-24 who are four times more likely to become infected with HIV than men of the same age.