MONICA KAYOMBO, Lusaka
JOURNALISTS have been called upon to highlight issues surrounding HIV prevention and access to contraceptives in the wake of research results indicating that women are still at high risk of getting the virus.
Recently released Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) research results show that there is no correlation between the use of contraceptive methods and high risk of HIV acquisition.
Dr Lilian Benjamin, a community advocate in Tanzania said during a webinar monitored from the Zambia Institute of Mass Communications (ZAMCOM) lodge in Lusaka that there is need for the media to highlight the supply management of contraceptives and other issues on HIV prevention.
Dr Benjamin also said the research results also indicated that having access to contraceptives among the youth remains a challenge as many health workers have their own definition of people that qualify for the service.
Sharing her own experience from Tanzania, Dr Benjamin observed that there is a lot of stigma faced by youth who want to access contraception services.
A separate interview with a 19-year-old Zambian girl who sought the service at one of the public health facilities in Zambia justified Dr Benjamin’s assertions.
The girl, who sought anonymity, said she was denied access to the service on grounds that she was young and not in a stable relationship.
“There is urgent need to have an array of contraceptive methods in all health facilities so that women have a wider choice and reduce on unnecessary cases of infertility due to sexually transmitted diseases,” Dr Benjamin said.
Dr Benjamin emphasised that women must be put at the centre of solutions in ending new HIV and other STIs.
“If you compare the rate between new HIV infections of women as compared to men, you find that women are taking up more new infections. In the context of Tanzania, young people regardless of gender take up 60 percent of new HIV infections. The 40 percent is contributed by young women and only 20 percent is contributed by men,’’ she said.
Dr Benjamin observed that it is such data that makes it important to focus and address things that increase the risk for women, especially on the array of contraceptives available.
Dr Nelly Mugo said among the ECHO participants who used Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) holistically, there were no HIV transmissions as compared to those who did not.
She said journalists need to be part of the movement and make sure that most people have access to PrEP, which is meant to prevent new HIV infections.
“We must make sure that people get anti-retroviral treatment and they control the viral load so that it is not transferred,’’ she said.
She said for women who are HIV negative, PrEP will help prevent them from getting new HIV infections.
Dr Benjamin said the goal is to completely eradicate HIV by preventing new infections.
During the same webinar, Chief Science officer at FHI360, Tim Maestro, said the global community was key in implementing the ECHO study recommendations.
He said the women need to know and have a right to contraception that will help them reduce chances of acquiring HIV.
He said making available all HIV prevention methods needed will help women make informed decisions.
Mr Maestro said the ECHO results underscore the importance of continued and increased access to contraceptive methods complimented by high quality HIV and STI prevention services.
The results in the randomised ECHO survey were officially released in June this year at the Aids conference in Durban, South Africa.
The study focused on progestogen-only contraceptive depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), the Jadelle sub-dermal implant and the copper intrauterine device (IUD) had no connection with HIV contraction.
The objective of the three-year-research, conducted in Zambia, South Africa, eSwathini and Uganda was to determine whether or not hormonal methods increase the risk of HIV.
Among 7,829 African women who participated in the survey, the results reassured that none of the three contraceptive methods indicated above increase the risk of HIV acquisition.
After the study, it was discovered that a total of 397 representing 3.8 percent per year of HIV infections occurred.
Those who used PrEP, there were reduced cases of HIV transmission emphasing the need for continued testing and treatment.
The research which is published online, highlights the urgent need to strengthen HIV prevention efforts as well as contraceptive services.
According to the latest World Health Organisation guidelines, women at high risk of acquiring the virus can use progestogen-only injectables of course based on medical advise.
The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, USAID, PEPFAR, SIDA, EU and the UNPF and others.
MONICA KAYOMBO, Lusaka