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Risk of HIV infection in studies of African women using hormonal contraceptives


Use of the injectable progestin contraceptive depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) is linked to an increased risk for HIV infection, according to an article published by Charles Morrison of FHI 360 and colleagues in this week's PLOS Medicine. The researchers did not find a significantly increased risk for HIV infection in women who used a different injectable progestin, norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN), nor in those who used combined oral contraceptives (COC).

The researchers reached these conclusions by performing a meta-analysis combining individual participant data from 18 prospective studies that measured hormonal contraceptive use and incident HIV infection among women aged 15-49 years living in sub-Saharan Africa. The studies included 37,124 women, 1830 of whom became infected with HIV. When controlling for other factors that affect risk of HIV infection (e.g., condom use), the researchers found that users of injectable DMPA were 50% more likely to become infected with HIV than those not using hormonal contraceptives. For women using a different injectable progestin, norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN), or combined oral contraceptives (COC), the researchers did not find a significantly increased risk of becoming HIV infected compared to those not using hormonal contraceptives. Furthermore, DMPA users were 43% and 32% more likely to become infected with HIV compared to COC users and NET-EN users, respectively.

While combining data from many studies improves statistical power, the researchers note that the associations between hormonal contraception and risk of becoming infected with HIV were attenuated for studies at lower risk of methodological bias compared to those at higher risk of bias, suggesting that some of the risk found to be associated with hormonal contraception may be due to bias in the original studies. They stress that a randomized controlled trial would provide more definitive evidence of the effects of hormonal contraception on HIV risk.

Until such studies are conducted, they conclude that "women with high HIV risk need access to additional safe and effective contraceptive options, and they need to be counseled about the relative risks and benefits of the available family planning methods."


Research Article

Funding: CSM received funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (1R21HD069192-01) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Health Grant (OPP1066223). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: NL is a member of the Editorial Board of PLOS Medicine. All other authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Citation: Morrison CS, Chen P-L, Kwok C, Baeten JM, Brown J, Crook AM, et al. (2015) Hormonal Contraception and the Risk of HIV Acquisition: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis. PLoS Med 12(1): e1001778. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001778

Author Affiliations:

University of Washington, UNITED STATES
University of California, Los Angeles, UNITED STATES
University College London, UNITED KINGDOM
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNITED STATES
Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, SOUTH AFRICA
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UNITED KINGDOM
Population Council, UNITED STATES
University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, SOUTH AFRICA
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, UNITED STATES
University of Toronto, CANADA
University of Southampton, UNITED KINGDOM
University of Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA
RTI International, UNITED STATES
University of Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM
University of Bern, SWITZERLAND



Charles S. Morrison
Clinical and Epidemiological Sciences
Global Health, Population and Nutrition
FHI 360
+1 (919) 544-7040

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