The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 28)

The Topic: Catching AIDS at the Hairdresser

The News Story: Conakry Hairdressers Dispense Cut-and-Dried Contraceptive Advice to Women

The New Research: Enabling AIDS in Africa 

 

The News Story: Conakry Hairdressers Dispense Cut-and-Dried Contraceptive Advice to Women

The African nation of Guinea is using a rather unorthodox method of doling out contraceptive “advice”—women’s hair salons.

Reports the Guardian, “Five salons across Conakry have been dispensing family planning advice since 2012, and they have been so successful that the project—the brainchild of Jhpiego, a health organisation associated with Johns Hopkins University in the US—is about to be extended to salons in Guinea’s seven major cities.” The program is best practiced in salons that focus on braiding African women’s hair, reports the story, “because that’s what women traditionally want,” whereas wealthier women who can afford to straighten or wash their hair more regularly already have access to more contraceptive information. Kouma, age 35, tells the Guardian, “I never knew about this before coming here – they taught me how. . . . I got the injection, and since then I’ve been able to control the number of children I have.”

But new research reveals that the “injection” that Kouma likely received comes with some rather nasty side effects, and that the U.S. and other Western nations have been aggressively pushing exactly the type of contraceptive that African women don’t need.

(Source: Ruth Maclean, “Conakry hairdressers dispense cut-and-dried contraceptive advice to women,” The Guardian, August 11, 2016)

 

The New Research: Enabling AIDS in Africa

A new review of the relevant research on the link between contraception and the transmission of AIDS should give policymakers concern. For it turns out that the very type of contraceptive most likely to be administered to poor women in Africa—the injection Depo-Provera (DMPA)—is also the one most likely to increase women’s chances of acquiring the deadly disease.

The study—co-sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute, the World Health Organization, and other partners—seeks to update previous research on a causal link between DMPA, other contraceptives, and AIDS. Lead researcher Dr. Chelsea Polis of Guttmacher believes the need for such research is high: “This is a critical area of research, given that hormonal contraceptives are highly effective methods for preventing unintended pregnancy and its health risks. Many places where HIV rates are high also have high levels of unmet need for contraception, unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality. It is essential that we understand whether use of any particular hormonal contraceptive method could elevate women’s risk of HIV acquisition.”

Like the review that it updates, this review shows no increased risk of acquiring AIDS while using an oral contraceptive pill. The data for the use of some other contraceptives, such as levonorgestrel implants, is limited, but also suggests no link. No data is available for hormonal patches, rings, or IUDs. But “[w]hile the data on other hormonal contraceptives, including the NET-EN injectable, are reassuring, our review identified new and increasingly concerning evidence on DMPA,” writes Dr. Tsungai Chipato of the University of Zimbabwe and coauthor of this study. Polis admits that although determining causality in an observational study is “challenging,” “it is worth noting that the methodological quality of studies looking at the association of DMPA use with HIV acquisition in women has improved dramatically over time.”

The researchers caution that before changing policy, the “net public health impact” should be considered: “estimating the impact of reduced reliance upon DMPA on potential reductions in HIV acquisition—as well as any concomitant increases in unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality—might be useful in considering appropriate country-level responses.” In other words, just because something seems to increase the risk of acquiring HIV, doesn’t mean it should be pulled from the market. Instead, Western elites should carefully consider the benefits of increased contraceptive use among African women and weigh those against the possibility of more HIV infection. 

But what the researchers’ warning best indicates, perhaps, is the colonialism and racism still ingrained in Western governing institutions, and the pharmaceutical interests that have far too much influence upon supposedly humanitarian interventions.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen, forthcoming in “New Research,” The Natural Family 30.4 [2016]. Press release by the Guttmacher Institute on: Chelsea Polis et al., “Update on Hormonal Contraceptive Methods and Risk of HIV Acquisition in Women: A Systematic Review of Epidemiological Evidence, 2016,” AIDS August 5, 2016, doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001228.)