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December 01, 2011

‘Staying the course’ with family planning

 Photo Credit Dominic Chavez


Rumors often are the enemies of public health. And one rumor that spun out of control earlier this year hurt family planning efforts.

The false rumor: recent studies have found that hormonal contraceptives increase a woman’s risk of contracting HIV.

Dr. Ward Cates, the President of Research at Family Health International 360, talked today about studies that have looked the relationship between hormonal contraceptives and HIV during a session at the International Conference on Family Planning.

Cates said that 17 different studies conducted on the subject have not only been of varying quality, but have had varying results. Some of the studies show that hormonal contraceptives have a harmful effect in relation to HIV and other studies show that hormonal contraceptives have a protective effect in relation to HIV. Accordingly, he said, there is no consistent link between HIV and hormonal contraceptives.

“What we do know,” said Cates, “is that hormonal contraception does not protect against HIV. Only a condom, both male and female, can protect against HIV.”

The World Health Organization has analyzed the aggregate data of all 17 studies and issued a recommendation to “stay the course.”

Women should continue to use their current method of contraception. If at risk of contracting HIV, a condom should be used.

Stephen O’Brien, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, announced at the conference that the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) will give 5 million pounds (approximately US $8 million) to pay for female condoms in sub-Saharan Africa. These funds will purchase about 13.5 million female condoms and help prevent estimated 500,000 HIV infections.

“We have the potential,” O Brien said, “to change the tide of the epidemic with universal access to condoms.”

In Senegal