Background: Although many countries have been promoting hormonal contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and condom use to prevent HIV transmission, little is known about how women targeted by these messages have interpreted and internalized them. We describe HIV-positive and negative women's understanding of the benefits of contraception and condoms and their motivations to use them.
Methods: This is a qualitative sub-study from a clinical trial evaluating the effects of progestin contraception on HIV-positive and negative women aged 18-45 years randomly assigned to depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection or levonorgestrel (LNG) implant. We purposively recruited 41 women to participate in in-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs) after randomization into the main study. We conducted a total of 30 IDIs and 6 FGDs comprised of 4-7 women (N = 32). All women were counselled about potential risks for HIV acquisition/transmission with progestin-only contraception, drug-drug interactions between the implant and efavirenz-based ART, and the need to use condoms with their assigned contraceptive to help prevent pregnancy and HIV acquisition and transmission.
Results: All women understood that HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex and that HIV transmission can be prevented through condom use but not DMPA injection or LNG implant use. Nearly all HIV-positive women knew or suspected that their partners were also HIV-positive and were most interested in using condoms to prevent infection with a drug-resistant HIV strain to keep their HIV viral load low. Almost all reported that their partners agreed to condom use, but few used them consistently. Most women believed that condoms were effective at preventing both HIV and pregnancy if used consistently. Nearly all women considered contraception and condom use as important in preventing unintended pregnancy and HIV because partner disclosure of HIV status is low.
Conclusion: Our results showed that both HIV-positive and negative women understood modes of HIV transmission and prevention and were aware that hormonal contraceptives are only effective for preventing pregnancy and not HIV. Although both HIV-negative and positive women were motivated to use condoms to prevent both HIV acquisition and infection with other HIV strains respectively, they all faced challenges from their partners in using condoms consistently.
Keywords: Condom use; Contraceptive use; Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate; Levonorgestrel implant; Malawi; Motivation.