7 February 2012

Kenya: WHO Experts Now Fail to Agree On Contraceptives

Photo: Mercedes Sayagues/PlusNews
Female condoms are available free of charge.

Health experts have failed to agree on the use of injectable contraceptives, which were linked to increased HIV infections in Kenya. World Health Organisation said the decision will now be made when another team meets on February 15.

WHO had initially formed a team of 53 experts from 20 countries to review the research which revealed that injectable contraceptives like Depo Provera double the risk of contracting HIV.

Recommendations made by that team will now be assessed by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee - the body that oversees the production of WHO public health guidelines for countries. "The Committee will meet on 15 February and announce its recommendations the following day," said the organisation's spokeswoman Fadéla Chaib.

She insisted hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices known as IUDs do not offer any protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. "Condoms are the mainstay of dual protection against both unwanted pregnancy and STIs including HIV," she said in a statement.

WHO's last guidance in 2009, based on the best evidence available at that time, said women at high risk of HIV infection and those living with HIV could safely use hormonal methods.

However, last year's study by the University of Washington, Kenyatta National Hospital, University of Nairobi and Moi University offered a different opinion. The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, revealed that injectables double the risk of women contracting HIV and also increase the risk of HIV-positive users infecting their male partners. It involved 3,800 couples from Kenya,Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia.

Director of Public Health Shahnaaz Sharif advised Kenyan women to continue using the birth control method while the government waits for direction from WHO. "For us the injectables are perfectly safe and until the WHO advises we cannot advise otherwise," he said recently.

The study raised concerns in Kenya because hormonal contraceptives are the most preferred due to convenience. Women using Depo provera, for instance, simply need only one injection every three months.

According to the 2008 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 48 percent of married women in Kenya use injectables, while 16% of total users prefer the pill. Women using implants account for about14 percent of total users.

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