Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) and the Contraceptive Pill

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS is the process of making sure that a child born to an HIV positive mother isn’t born with the disease too. And if most people in Sub-Saharan Africa were to be asked how it can be prevented, they would more likely than not answer that prevention is better than the cure – the mother should try to not get pregnant in the first place. While there are many moral issues that could be brought against this idea, some mothers would agree that they too thought so and were using contraceptives to prevent the pregnancy from happening.

And yet, according to a study, it has been found that taking contraceptive pills has actually been the linked to an increase risk of HIV infection among women of reproductive age1. In Africa, where HIV/AIDS is the most prevalent, population control programs have been in place for over three decades in which time women were encouraged to use oral contraceptive pills and hormonal injection contraceptives like Depo-Provera. Research has shown that this has been found to increase not only a woman’s risk of transmitting the disease, but also that of being infected. This has come as quite a shock to the estimated 140 million users of hormonal contraceptives worldwide.

According to Joan Robinson, a researcher at The Population Research Institute (PRI), as the idea of population reduction was being promoted in Sub-Saharan Africa, it was clearing the path for HIV/AIDS to run amok. She goes on to say that, “The U.S. is contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS among African women by its reckless distribution of hormonal contraceptives of all kinds in so-called “reproductive health” programs”.

The study showed that the risk of HIV/AIDS in the women using the contraceptives was increased because of three main reasons (there are at least 6, according to the study):

  1. Hormonal contraceptives alter the basic microenvironment of the women and boost the count of the specific cells that the disease uses to infect and proliferate.
  2. One Progesterone side effect, which is commonly known as ‘breakthrough bleeding’ to women in the West, is caused when hormonal contraceptives excessively thicken the uterine lining. This large bleeding site creates an ideal site for HIV infection.
  3. A well known character of Progesterone is the fact that it is an immunosuppressant. This makes the women unable to naturally defend herself against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

While the world is now struggling with mother-child-transmission (MTCT) of HIV and its prevention, it remains open to discussion how much of that effort could have been put to better use, especially if only hormonal contraceptives had not been so widely promoted.

Source: Baeten et al. 2003, “Hormonal Influences on HIV Disease and Co-Morbidites.” J Acquir Immune Def Syndr. 2005, Vol 38, Suppl 1: S19

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