Alarming new research out of eastern and southern Africa, where both unplanned pregnancies and AIDS wreak havoc: The most popular contraceptive used by women there appears to double their risk of contracting HIV—and if a woman already has HIV, it doubles her risk of transmitting it to her partner compared to women who use no contraception. The study centers around a hormone shot given once every three months, which is the best contraception available in Africa today, one expert tells the New York Times: “If it is now proven that these contraceptions are helping spread the AIDS epidemic, we have a major health crisis on our hands.”
The fate posed by unplanned pregnancies is often no better: Hundreds of thousands of African women suffer injuries, bleeding, infection, or death in childbirth. Worse, the study also found that pregnancy itself doubles the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV, meaning women could still face the same increased risk should they decide to stop taking the hormone shot. In light of the study, WHO will meet in January to re-evaluate its contraceptive recommendations. The reason for the increased risk is not clear, though researchers essentially ruled out the possibility that decreased condom use was a factor.