Women know what they want, but need more reproductive health choices

Editor’s notes: Eliminating new HIV infections among children is often seen as a useful barometer of the overall success of the health systems as it relates to HIV.  Combination prevention approaches that include structural, behavioural and biomedical elements reduce the chance of women becoming HIV-positive.  Effective provision of a range of choices of modern contraceptive technology allow women to choose whether and when to have babies.  The option B+ approach should ensure that all pregnant women living with HIV are offered lifelong ART, which minimises the chance of mother to child transmission of HIV infection.  Continuing ART treatment for life keeps the mother healthy and allows her to support the development of her infant.

New HIV infections in children have declined by 46% since 2010, but there were still an estimated 160 000 new infections in 2016.  We know that in many settings the health system barometer is still forecasting plenty of clouds among the bright spells.  This month saw a range of papers describing reproductive health choices and HIV, as well as reflections on how option B+ is working, now that it is standard of care.

Contraceptive choices for women at high risk of HIV or living with HIV are complicated.  WHO recently reclassified long-acting progestin injections, such as DMPA, for women at high risk of HIV infection as category 2 in the Medical Eligibility for Contraception guidance. Category 2 means that, although the method is generally safe to use, clinical judgment and careful follow up may be required.  While the evidence comes from meta-analyses of observational studies, with inherent limitations, there is a reliable association between new HIV infection and the use of injectable progestins.  The ongoing randomized ECHO trial will provide higher quality evidence of causality, but results will not be reported until 2019. 

Mayhew et al. found that women living with HIV attending clinics in Kenya, were quite clear about their fertility intentions.  Many did not want more children, although they acknowledged pressure from partners and others.  Stigma around breast-feeding, worries about money and about possible health consequences of pregnancy were all reasons to decide not to have further children. The large majority used various sorts of contraception, but despite this 40% of pregnancies during the study were unintended.  The authors felt that the advice given by the clinics was not adequate and that choice of contraceptive method was limited.  In particular reliable long-acting methods, both reversible and not, were rarely taken up by the younger women.  Overall 16% of women used long-acting methods, and no pregnancies occurred in this group.

Chanda et al. focused on female sex workers in Zambia and found similar results.  Almost half the women had had terminations of pregnancies, and 62% of pregnancies were not planned.  Interestingly the availability of condoms at their places of work reduced the chances of unwanted pregnancy.  Approximately 39% used injectable long-acting contraceptives and only 18% used dual protection with a barrier in addition to a non-barrier method.  Less than one-third of the women reported that condoms were available often or always at work, and 23% reported using no contraception.  Providing access to condoms for sex workers in the highest transmission areas of countries like Zambia seems such an obvious pre-requisite for HIV programmes that it is extraordinary that in 2017 we still do not manage to do so.

Finally on this theme, Salters et al. demonstrate that contraceptive choice for women living with HIV is not only a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa.  The authors followed women in the Canadian HIV Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study and showed that 61% of reported pregnancies were unintended. Women with unintended pregnancies tended to be younger, single and born in Canada compared to women with planned pregnancies.  To support the second prong of the strategy to eliminate HIV infections in children, we need to improve on the integration between services for sexual and reproductive health and rights and services for women living with HIV.

Once women living with HIV are pregnant, the focus shifts to the third and fourth prong – preventing transmission to the infant and keeping the mother and infant healthy.  Option B+ has transformed the approach in most antenatal clinics with high rates of coverage of HIV testing and most women receiving ART during pregnancy.  In the One Stop Clinic in Ifakara, Tanzania, Gamell et al. show that almost all pregnant women, who do not already know that they are living with HIV, are offered an HIV test and that 94% accept it.  Retesting late in pregnancy is not yet routine, and only 3% were re-tested, of whom one (2%) had seroconverted.  Since acute HIV infection has such an important impact on the risk of transmission, re-testing later in pregnancy is now routine in many countries.  Coverage is far from complete, so it is not always clear whether the high rates of seroconversion observed reflect a selection bias in choosing women who are at particularly high risk.  This is an important area for research if we are to continue to drive down the already low transmission rates.  Similarly the authors found that women who slipped through the net and presented in labour, were not always tested and did have a higher prevalence of infection - 5.2% vs. 3.1%. The other significant finding in Ifakara was that, as in many cohort studies, women were happy to take ART during pregnancy to protect their infants, but retention in care thereafter was much less impressive.  Of women newly diagnosed with HIV infection during pregnancy, 27% were lost to follow up at the time of the analysis.

Chadambuka et al. used qualitative methods to understand what impact the shift to option B+ has had in their study area in Zimbabwe.  Overall, the women interviewed were very positive about treatment.  They believed that it was good for their babies and also good for them, making them look healthy and thus avoiding stigma.  However, women pointed out that their male partners are not exposed to as much information at the clinic or in the community.  As a result, many men are less keen to be tested and sometimes not keen for their partners to be taking medicine despite appearing healthy.  As one woman put it: “Very few men are supportive. You have to be strong. The men base their judgment on how healthy you appear to be as you carry yourself around and he also compares to how healthy he feels and opts to delay testing. But delaying only brings further harm. So when those men tell you to stop taking your medication, you need to tell them that they can stop if they want to, whilst you continue with your treatment.”  Within the power dynamics of many relationships, such a forthright approach may not be easy for all women.  So we need continued attention on how to engage men in the process and how to empower women to act as agents of change within their communities.


Fertility intentions and contraceptive practices among clinic-users living with HIV in Kenya: a mixed methods study

Mayhew SH, Colombini M, Kimani JK, Tomlin K, Warren CE; Integra Initiative, Mutemwa R. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 5;17(1):626. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4514-2.

Background: Preventing unwanted pregnancies in Women Living with HIV (WLHIV) is a recognised HIV-prevention strategy. This study explores the fertility intentions and contraceptive practices of WLHIV using services in Kenya.

Methods: Two hundred forty women self-identifying as WLHIV who attended reproductive health services in Kenya were interviewed with a structured questionnaire in 2011; 48 were also interviewed in-depth. STATA SE/13.1, Nvivo 8 and thematic analysis were used.

Results: Seventy one percent participants did not want another child; this was associated with having at least two living children and being the bread-winnerFP use was high (92%) but so were unintended pregnancies (40%) while living with HIV. 56 women reported becoming pregnant "while using FP": all were using condoms or short-term methods. Only 16% participants used effective long-acting reversible contraceptives or permanent methods (LARC-PM). Being older than 25 years and separated, widowed or divorced were significant predictors of long-term method use. Qualitative data revealed strong motivation among WLHIV to plan or prevent pregnancies to avoid negative health consequences. Few participants received good information about contraceptive choices.

Conclusions: WLHIV need better access to FP advice and a wider range of contraceptives including LARC to enable informed choices that will protect their fertility intentions, ensure planned pregnancies and promote safe child-bearing.

Trial registration: Integra is a non-randomised pre-post intervention trial registered with Current Controlled Trials ID: NCT01694862.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access


Contraceptive use and unplanned pregnancy among female sex workers in Zambia

Chanda MM, Ortblad KF, Mwale M, Chongo S, Kanchele C, Kamungoma N, Barresi LG, Harling G, Bärnighausen T, Oldenburg CE. Contraception. 2017 Sep;96(3):196-202. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2017.07.003. Epub 2017 Jul 12.

Objectives: Access to reproductive healthcare, including contraceptive services, is an essential component of comprehensive healthcare for female sex workers (FSW). Here, we evaluated the prevalence of and factors associated with contraceptive use, unplanned pregnancy, and pregnancy termination among FSW in three transit towns in Zambia.

Study design: Data arose from the baseline quantitative survey from a randomized controlled trial of HIV self-testing among FSW. Eligible participants were 18 years of age or older, exchanged sex for money or goods at least once in the past month, and were HIV-uninfected or status unknown without recent HIV testing (<3 months). Logistic regression models were used to assess factors associated with contraceptive use and unplanned pregnancy.

Results: Of 946 women eligible for this analysis, 84.1% had been pregnant at least once, and among those 61.6% had an unplanned pregnancy, and 47.7% had a terminated pregnancyIncarceration was associated with decreased odds of dual contraception use (aOR=0.46, 95% CI 0.32-0.67) and increased odds of unplanned pregnancy (aOR=1.75, 95% CI 1.56-1.97). Condom availability at work was associated with increased odds of using condoms only for contraception (aOR=1.74, 95% CI 1.21-2.51) and decreased odds of unplanned pregnancy (aOR=0.63, 95% CI 0.61-0.64).

Conclusions: FSW in this setting have large unmet reproductive health needs. Structural interventions, such as increasing condom availability in workplaces, may be useful for reducing the burden of unplanned pregnancy.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access


Pregnancy incidence and intention after HIV diagnosis among women living with HIV in Canada

Salters K, Loutfy M, de Pokomandy A, Money D, Pick N, Wang L, Jabbari S, Carter A, Webster K, Conway T, Dubuc D, O'Brien N, Proulx-Boucher K, Kaida A; CHIWOS Research Team. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 20;12(7):e0180524. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180524. eCollection 2017.

Background: Pregnancy incidence rates among women living with HIV (WLWH) have increased over time due to longer life expectancy, improved health status, and improved access to and HIV prevention benefits of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). However, it is unclear whether intended or unintended pregnancies are contributing to observed increases.

Methods: We analyzed retrospective data from the Canadian HIV Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS). Kaplan-Meier methods and GEE Poisson models were used to measure cumulative incidence and incidence rate of pregnancy after HIV diagnosis overall, and by pregnancy intention. We used multivariable logistic regression models to examine independent correlates of unintended pregnancy among the most recent/current pregnancy.

Results: Of 1165 WLWH included in this analysis, 278 (23.9%) women reported 492 pregnancies after HIV diagnosis, 60.8% of which were unintendedUnintended pregnancy incidence (24.6 per 1000 women-years (WYs); 95% CI: 21.0, 28.7) was higher than intended pregnancy incidence (16.6 per 1000 WYs; 95% CI: 13.8, 20.1) (Rate Ratio: 1.5, 95% CI: 1.2-1.8). Pregnancy incidence among WLWH who initiated cART before or during pregnancy (29.1 per 1000 WYs with 95% CI: 25.1, 33.8) was higher than among WLWH not on cART during pregnancy (11.9 per 1000 WYs; 95% CI: 9.5, 14.9) (Rate Ratio: 2.4, 95% CI: 2.0-3.0). Women with current or recent unintended pregnancy (vs. intended pregnancy) had higher adjusted odds of being single (AOR: 1.94; 95% CI: 1.10, 3.42), younger at time of conception (AOR: 0.95 per year increase, 95% CI: 0.90, 0.99), and being born in Canada (AOR: 2.76, 95% CI: 1.55, 4.92).

Conclusion: Nearly one-quarter of women reported pregnancy after HIV diagnosis, with 61% of all pregnancies reported as unintended. Integrated HIV and reproductive health care programming is required to better support WLWH to optimize pregnancy planning and outcomes and to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access


Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV Option B+ cascade in rural Tanzania: the One Stop Clinic model

Gamell A, Luwanda LB, Kalinjuma AV, Samson L, Ntamatungiro AJ, Weisser M, Gingo W, Tanner M, Hatz C, Letang E, Battegay M; KIULARCO Study Group. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 12;12(7):e0181096. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181096. eCollection 2017.

Background: Strategies to improve the uptake of Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) are needed. We integrated HIV and maternal, newborn and child health services in a One Stop Clinic to improve the PMTCT cascade in a rural Tanzanian setting.

Methods: The One Stop Clinic of Ifakara offers integral care to HIV-infected pregnant women and their families at one single place and time. All pregnant women and HIV-exposed infants attended during the first year of Option B+ implementation (04/2014-03/2015) were includedPMTCT was assessed at the antenatal clinic (ANC), HIV care and labour ward, and compared with the pre-B+ period. We also characterised HIV-infected pregnant women and evaluated the MTCT rate.

Results: 1579 women attended the ANC. Seven (0.4%) were known to be HIV-infectedOf the remainder, 98.5% (1548/1572) were offered an HIV test94% (1456/1548) accepted and 38 (2.6%) tested HIV-positive51 were re-screened for HIV during late pregnancy and one had seroconvertedThe HIV prevalence at the ANC was 3.1% (46/1463). Of the 39 newly diagnosed women, 35 (90%) were linked to care. HIV test was offered to >98% of ANC clients during both the pre- and post-B+ periods. During the post-B+ period, test acceptance (94% versus 90.5%, p<0.0001) and linkage to care (90% versus 26%, p<0.0001) increasedTen additional women diagnosed outside the ANC were linked to care. 82% (37/45) of these newly-enrolled women started antiretroviral treatment (ART). After a median time of 17 months, 27% (12/45) were lost to follow-up. 79 women under HIV care became pregnant and all received ART. After a median follow-up time of 19 months, 6% (5/79) had been lost. 5727 women delivered at the hospital, 20% (1155/5727) had unknown HIV serostatus. Of these, 30% (345/1155) were tested for HIV, and 18/345 (5.2%) were HIV-positive. Compared to the pre-B+ period more women were tested during labour (30% versus 2.4%, p<0.0001). During the study, the MTCT rate was 2.2%.

Conclusions: The implementation of Option B+ through an integrated service delivery model resulted in universal HIV testing in the ANC, high rates of linkage to care, and MTCT below the elimination threshold. However, HIV testing in late pregnancy and labour, and retention during early ART need to be improved.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access


Acceptability of lifelong treatment among HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women (Option B+) in selected health facilities in Zimbabwe: a qualitative study

Chadambuka A, Katirayi L, Muchedzi A, Tumbare E, Musarandega R, Mahomva AI, Woelk G BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 25;18(1):57. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4611-2.

Background: Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) adopted 2013 World Health Organization (WHO) prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) guidelines recommending initiation of HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women (PPBW) on lifelong antiretroviral treatment (ART) irrespective of clinical stage (Option B+). Option B+ was officially launched in Zimbabwe in November 2013; however the acceptability of life-long ART and its potential uptake among women was not known.

Methods: A qualitative study was conducted at selected sites in Harare (urban) and Zvimba (rural) to explore Option B+ acceptability; barriers, and facilitators to ART adherence and service uptake. In-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews (KIIs) were conducted with PPBW, healthcare providers, and community members. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and translated; data were coded and analyzed in MaxQDA v10.

Results: Forty-three IDIs, 22 FGDs, and five KIIs were conducted. The majority of women accepted lifelong ART. There was however, a fear of commitment to taking lifelong medication because they were afraid of defaulting, especially after cessation of breastfeeding. There was confusion around dosage; and fear of side effects, not having enough food to take drugs, and the lack of opportunities to ask questions in counseling. Participants reported the need for strengthening community sensitization for Option B+. Facilitators included receiving a simplified pill regimen; ability to continue breastfeeding beyond 6 months like HIV-negative women; and partner, community and health worker support. Barriers included distance of health facility, non-disclosure of HIV status, poor male partner support and knowing someone who had negative experience on ART.

Conclusions: This study found that Option B+ is generally accepted among PPBW as a means to strengthen their health and protect their babies. Consistent with previous literature, this study demonstrated the importance of male partner and community support in satisfactory adherence to ART and enhancing counseling techniques. Strengthening community sensitization and male knowledge is critical to encourage women to disclose their HIV status and ensure successful adherence to ART. Targeting and engaging partners of women will remain key determinants to women's acceptance and adherence on ART under Option B+

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Northern America
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