Posted on | October 4, 2011 by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. |
The New York Times front page today carried the story of a new study showing that injectible contraceptives double the risk of contracting HIV. The contraceptive is the most popular in eastern and southern Africa (used by some 12 million women). Women who are HIV positive double the chance they will infect their partner.
What is most disturbing about the story is WHO’s response. The WHO spokesperson said nothing about warning women or ending the use of the contraceptive. To the contrary, the spokesperson said WHO would convene a meeting in January to talk about the new study.
What was not reported is that WHO already knew about the link between the contraceptive and HIV. When studies emerged in 2004 and 2005, WHO also convened a meeting to talk about it. The result was a WHO paper in 2005 acknowledging the risk, but downplaying it by highlighting that the study included sex workers. They concluded that “there should be no restrictions” on the contraceptive. They even went on to say that the increased risk was the price women should pay in order to avert pregnancy:
the benefits of using [contraceptives] to
prevent unintended pregnancy would in
the majority of cases offset any excess
risk of acquiring HIV infection.
The lackadaisical WHO response to the new study is irresponsible to say the least. Nothing at all about the new study appears on WHO’s website, even though the study has been out for months.
WHO, and other UN agencies such as UNFPA and UNICEF which promote contraception on the ground in these countries are morally if not legally bound to put the health of women above their own institutional agenda.
Credit is due to the University of Washington for undertaking the study and the Lancet for publishing it. This is the same duo that exposed WHO’s flawed maternal health statistics in a study published last year.