Study on contraceptives and HIV risk to be released mid-2019

Nov 12, 2018

Dr. Timothy Mastro, a member of the ECHO management committee said they had concluded the study and that findings will be out by mid 2019.

Would a woman  who is using hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy be at a higher risk of contracting HIV? Would she care to protect herself from HIV, given that she is not worried about gettting pregnant?

These are some of the questions that will hopefully be answered by a new  study titled Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes(ECHO).

Launched in 2015, the randomised clinical trial recruited a total of 7,830 sexually active HIV-negative women aged 16 to 35 at 12 study sites in Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia.

Participants were randomly assigned to use of the three contraceptive methods: Depo-Provera (injectable), the implant and the intrauterine device(IUD).

Dr. Timothy Mastro, a member of the ECHO management committee said they had concluded the study and that findings will be out by mid 2019.

He said the purpose of the trial was to determine whether there is an increased risk of HIV acquisition associated with use of hormonal contraception.

"Women like injectables. They can use them without their partners knowing to avoid unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. But there is uncertainty over whether that causes HIV," said Mastro.

"The women that are not on injectables choose to use condoms. Those on Depo (injectable contraceptives) are not worried about getting pregnant and may not use condoms," he added.

Mastro said the randomised trial would provide policy makers with the highest quality scientific evidence on hormonal contraceptives and HIV.

"It will provide evidence of this casual relationship. It will also assess whether the risk of acquiring HIV different with the use of Depo, Implants and the IUD. Besides HIV acquisition, investigators will analyse pregnancy, method continuation rates and complications associated with contraceptive use," said Mastro, who is also the the Chief Science Officer at FHI 360.

Participating women were encouraged to remain on their assigned methods for the duration of the ECHO trial but could change methods if they wished.

The study was conducted by several partners including World Health Organisation and FHI 360.

Mastro was addressing a workshop for journalists ahead of the International Conference on Family Planning taking place in Kigali, Rwanda this week from November 12 -15, 2018.

Under the theme "Investing for a lifetime of returns," the conference has brought together over 3,000 high-level policy makers, scientists, researchers, youth and civil society organisations from about 120 countries. Participants will share research, knowledge and practices to expand access to family planning services.

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