The New Times (Kigali)

14 October 2011

Rwanda: New Study On HIV Misleading - Family Planning Expert

A family planning expert in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Thomas Nsengiyumva, has said that a study indicating that a contraceptive used in Africa may double HIV risk is misleading.

The study was conducted in Rwanda and six other countries, by a group of researchers from the University of Washington.

According to the study, a hormone shot given every three months is the most popular contraceptive for women in Eastern and Southern Africa. This however appears to double the risk of HIV infection.

"And when it is used by HIV positive women, their male partners are twice as likely to become infected than if the women had used no contraception," reads the study.

Dr. Thomas Nsengiyumva, explained why the study, especially the title - contraceptive used in Africa may double HIV risk - is misleading.

"The title creates the impression that the contraceptive may double the risk of HIV AIDS among all users yet this may only be true for discordant couples who aren't using condoms,"Nsengiyumva stated.

He said that this has led to misinformation among different media who have created the impression that contraceptive use doubles risk of HIV AIDS.

"It's expected and normal for discordant couples to spread HIV to the other partner if they rely on the use of other contraceptives without using condoms," Nsengiyumva noted.

The study involved 3,800 couples in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In each couple, either the man or the woman was already infected with H.I.V.

The study found that women using hormonal contraception became infected at a rate of 6.61 per 100 person-years, compared with 3.78 for those not using that method. Transmission of H.I.V. to men occurred at a rate of 2.61 per 100 person-years for women using hormonal contraception compared with 1.51 for those who did not.

Dr. Thomas Nsengiyumva noted that people should wait for a comment from the World Health Organisation (WHO) before coming to conclusions on the study that seems to have a few limitations.

He added that WHO will assemble a meeting in January with researchers to consider if evidence is now strong enough to advise women that the method may increase their risk of getting or transmitting H.I.V.

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