Improving birth control access for women living with HIV

Although contraception is an important preventive health care tool for all women, many women face barriers when trying to access birth control. In particular, HIV-positive women face unique challenges, such as misconceptions among health care providers about what methods are safe. In fact, there are no medical reasons to restrict contraceptive access to women at risk of HIV, and only one class of HIV medications—known as protease inhibitors—may interfere with hormonal contraception.

In order to better understand this issue, researchers with the UCSF Bixby Center surveyed doctors and nurses working in HIV-prevalent areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe. They found that most providers (85%) offered women oral contraceptive pills, but only about a quarter considered the pill appropriate for women with HIV or at risk of HIV. A higher proportion of providers considered injectable contraceptives appropriate for HIV-positive women (46%) or women at risk of HIV (42%). Few providers considered emergency contraception appropriate for women with HIV (13%) or at risk of HIV (16%).

These findings emphasize the urgent need to improve health care providers' knowledge about contraceptive safety, especially among providers caring for HIV-positive women. Integrating family planning and HIV care has already been shown to improve the quality of contraceptive care. Having access to a wide range of birth control options can help women protect their health and wellbeing, and make important decisions about their lives and families.