Background: A recent observational study among HIV-1 serodiscordant couples (uninfected women living with an infected partner) raised concerns about the safety of injectable contraceptives, especially depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA). The purpose of this paper is to assess the implications of potentially elevated risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) acquisition with the use of hormonal contraceptives for individual users and public policies.
Study design: Two indicators expressing costs (additional unwanted births and additional maternal deaths) in terms of the same unit of benefit (per 100 HIV infections averted) are estimated by using data on competing risks of unwanted birth and HIV acquisition associated with the use of various contraceptive methods. Elevated HIV acquisition risks associated with hormonal contraception observed in the observational studies of family planning users, sex workers and HIV-1 serodiscordant couples are used. Other relevant data for Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe are used to illustrate the potential effect of withdrawal of DMPA at the population level.
Results: Both the risks of unwanted birth and HIV acquisition with sterilization, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants at the individual level are lower than those with DMPA. A shift from DMPA to an oral contraceptive (OC) or male condom by an individual could result in about 600 and a shift to no method in about 5400 additional unwanted births per 100 HIV infections averted. At the population level, the withdrawal of DMPA from Kenya, for example, could result in 7600 annual additional unwanted births and 40 annual additional maternal deaths per 100 HIV infections averted.
Conclusion: Individual DMPA users may be advised to shift to sterilization, IUD or implant depending upon their reproductive needs and circumstances, but not to no method, OC or even condom alone. At the macro level, the decision to withdraw DMPA from family planning programs in sub-Saharan Africa is not warranted.
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