Updated evidence that DMPA increases HIV risk among women

Update on hormonal contraceptive methods and risk of HIV acquisition in women: a systematic review of epidemiological evidence, 2016.

Polis CB, Curtis KM, Hannaford PC, Phillips SJ, Chipato T, Kiarie JN, Westreich DJ, Steyn PS. AIDS. 2016 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective and design: Some studies suggest that specific hormonal contraceptive (HC) methods (particularly depot medroxyprogesterone acetate [DMPA]) may increase women's HIV acquisition risk. We updated a systematic review to incorporate recent epidemiological data.

Methods: We searched for articles published between 1/15/2014-1/15/2016, and hand-searched reference lists. We identified longitudinal studies comparing users of a specific HC method against either (1) non-users of HC, or (2) users of another specific HC method. We added newly identified studies to those in the previous review, assessed study quality, created forest plots to display results, and conducted a meta-analysis for data on DMPA versus no HC.

Results: We identified ten new reports: five were considered "unlikely to inform the primary question". We focus on the other five reports, along with 9 from the previous review, considered "informative but with important limitations". The preponderance of data for oral contraceptive pills, injectable norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN), and levonorgestrel implants do not suggest an association with HIV acquisition, though data for implants are limited. The new, higher-quality studies on DMPA (or non-disaggregated injectables), which had mixed results in terms of statistical significance, had hazard ratios (HR) between 1.2 and 1.7, consistent with our meta-analytic estimate for all higher-quality studies of HR 1.4.

Conclusions: While confounding in these observational data cannot be excluded, new information increases concerns about DMPA and HIV acquisition risk in women. If the association is causal, the magnitude of effect is likely ≤HR 1.5. Data for other hormonal contraceptive methods, including NET-EN, are largely reassuring.

Abstract access [1]

Editor’s notes: For several years there has been debate about whether the risk of HIV acquisition in women may be increased by the use of hormonal contraception. A systematic review published in 2014 included a meta-analysis of data from 22 studies, and this paper adds 10 new studies to the analysis. While these new papers carried some of the previous review’s limitations which cannot be ignored, the new data also lends further strength to the evidence and renewed analysis. The authors found some encouraging results which suggest that there is no significant increased risk of HIV with the use of oral contraceptives and the NET-EN injectable. However, this analysis does suggest that there is an increased risk of 1.4-1.5 of HIV with the use of DMPA. This is particularly concerning given the widespread use of this product throughout the world, and especially in areas where high rates of new HIV infections continue to persist, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Studies continue to explore this association of risk, and will hopefully produce evidence in the near future to definitively provide guidance as to how clinicians should direct the use of DMPA in women at risk of HIV. 

Africa [6], Northern America [7]
Kenya [8], Malawi [9], Mozambique [10], South Africa [11], Uganda [12], United Republic of Tanzania [13], United States of America [14], Zambia [15], Zimbabwe [16]
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