Photo: Sethekele Ncube/allAfrica
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By Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times

The hormone shot — popular among African women who must use birth control in secret — is as safe as other methods, scientists reported.

For decades, many African women in need of birth control they could use in secret have relied on intramuscular hormone injections that prevent pregnancy for three months.

But in recent years, women have been terrified — and family planning officials frustrated — as studies suggested that women using injectables were far more likely to get infected with H.I.V.

On Thursday, a major new study found that women who did were not at a much greater risk than they were from other contraceptive methods, including a hormone implant or a copper intrauterine device.

The study, which involved more than 7,800 women in four African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and eSwatini — the former Swazilandand) was published in The Lancet, pleased advocates for women’s health. The study compared infection rates among thousands of women who each had to consistently use one of three modern birth control methods for 18 months. 

Over the course of the study, and despite all the precautions offered them, 397 women became infected. That alarmingly high rate — almost 4 percent a year — was even greater than other investigators had found in earlier trials of prevention methods.

“That’s a stark reminder that we’re not done with H.I.V.,” said Dr. Jared Baeten, University of Washington Department of Global Health and a chief investigator of the study, adding that the finding lent urgency to the need to introduce new forms of protection, like PrEP.

Nonetheless, the infection rates were roughly similar in all three groups: 36 percent in the Depo-Provera group, 35 percent in the copper IUD group and 29 percent in the Jadelle group.

Jared Baeten, Professor of Global Health, International Clinical Research Center (ICRC)is quoted in this story. ICRC, a Center in the UW Department of Global Health, leads data management, laboratory oversight, and safety monitoring for the ECHO study.

Read the entire article in The New York Times, and related stories in The Guardian, The Herald, Med Page Today, and allAfrica.

For more about the ECHO Study see the project website, WHO, and The Lancet.