The United Nations reiterated today the need to provide women with access to both hormonal contraceptives and condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection, after a renewed consultation with health experts on the issue.
A stakeholder consultation organized by the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Geneva reviewed recent epidemiological studies on the transmission and acquisition of HIV by women using hormonal contraceptives and concluded that the data was not sufficient to change the World Health Organization’s (WHO) current recommendation, which indicates that condoms are the most effective method to prevent HIV infection.
“While a range of contraceptives protect against unintended pregnancies, only condoms, male and female, provide dual protection by stopping HIV transmission and preventing unintended pregnancies,” said UNAIDS in a press statement.
According to UNAIDS, about half of the 34 million people living with HIV are women. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by the epidemic, nearly 60 per cent of all new HIV infections occur in women.
“Women need safe contraceptive and HIV prevention options that they can own and manage,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “New investments into research for female controlled HIV prevention options and safe contraceptive methods are essential,” she said, adding that not giving women and girls access to these methods increases their vulnerability to HIV infection.
The level of unmet family planning need among the 1.18 billion women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide is estimated to be 11 per cent, while in sub-Saharan Africa it is more than twice as high, at 25 per cent.
UNAIDS recommends that people who are sexually active – particularly women and girls – have full access to information and counselling to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health needs.
“Women and girls must have access to the widest range of contraceptive and HIV prevention options. Such services must be provided in an integrated manner by health workers.”