The World Health Organization (WHO) has revised its guidance on contraceptive use to reflect new evidence that women at high risk of HIV can use any form of reversible contraception, including progestogen-only injectables, implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs), without an increased risk of HIV infection.
However, as these contraceptive methods do not protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the guideline emphasizes that correct and consistent use of condoms should be used where there is a risk of STIs, including HIV. WHO also recommends considering offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in settings where the incidence of HIV is above 3%, as appropriate.
The updated WHO guideline follows a thorough review of the latest scientific evidence. It emphasizes that women should have access to the full range of modern contraceptive methods so they can make informed choices around contraceptive choice and their sexual health.
“Evidence shows that a woman’s risk of HIV should not restrict her contraceptive choice,” said Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director, Universal Health Coverage/Life Course at WHO. “All women should have access to a wide range of options for contraception as well as to HIV prevention and to treatment if needed.”
The updated recommendations to the WHO guideline, Medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use, stem from a review of the latest evidence conducted by the independent Guideline Development Group convened to inform WHO. This Group assessed all of the evidence on hormonal contraception and risk of HIV acquisition published since the previous review published in 2016, along with a systematic review of all published evidence on copper-bearing IUDs and HIV risk.
The global recommendations have particular bearing for sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of HIV transmission but also some of the biggest challenges in ensuring women have access to a full range of contraceptive options. Currently a quarter of women aged 15–49 in Africa (24%), who want to delay or prevent having children, have limited access to modern contraception. This is the highest unmet need across all WHO regions.