A study that started in 2015 to establish if a popular contraceptive injection called Depo-Provera, widely used in Africa, increased the risk of HIV infection, has found that there is no increased risk

“This well-executed randomised trial did not find a substantial difference in HIV risk among the methods evaluated, and all the methods were safe and highly effective,” Dr. Jared Baeten told the 9th South African Aids Conference in Durban on Thursday, where the study results were officially released.

“We designed this trial to detect a 50% increase in HIV incidence for each of the contraceptive methods compared to each of the others. None of the comparison showed a 50% increase in HIV incidence,” said Baeten.

Baeten, of the University of Washington, was part of the 500-strong ECHO (Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes) study team, which included numerous South African scientists, US scientists and others from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO will use the ECHO results to guide policy about contraceptive use.

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The potential risks of the injection for women who are at high risk of HIV infection has long been uncertain, and it was expected that ECHO would provide high quality data and evidence on its safety – or lack thereof.

Clinical trials took place on 7 830 HIV negative women between the ages of 16 and 35 who wanted to be placed on contraception, in South Africa, Kenya, Eswatini and Zambia.

The contraceptives being studied were Depo-Provera, the LNG arm implant and copper IUD.

Baeten said that the results of the ECHO study underscored the importance of continued and increased access to the three contraceptive methods used in the trial.

“Many women in Africa are at high risk for HIV infection and for morbidity and mortality from unintended pregnancy,” he said. Sadly, said Baeten, the rate of HIV infection still remained high throughout the study.

Dr. James Kiarie, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), took to the stage after Baeten to congratulate the team and welcome the results.

Safe contraceptive use broadened

He said that women’s choices for safe contraceptive use on the African continent had been broadened.

“Going forward, there are several key considerations for the WHO that we will have to take into account when looking at what needs to be done in response to the ECHO results,” said Kiarie.

These considerations included preferred contraceptive methods being maximised while protecting women’s health.

Women had a right to the latest and best information and to access a broad range of effective and acceptable methods of contraceptives, he said.

Other key considerations, said Kiarie, were the unacceptable levels of contraceptives among developing nations, and the need to step up HIV prevention efforts – particularly in high-burden countries – for young women.

The ECHO results will be available on the website of medical journal The Lancet later on Thursday.

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Author: ANA Newswire