All three organizations continue to fund birth-control injections that studies say heighten millions of women’s risk of AIDS
WASHINGTON — The Clinton Health Access Initiative, working with the Gates Foundation and a host of foreign-aid agencies, including USAID, distributes millions of doses of birth-control injections to women in the developing world each year using tax dollars to support the pharmaceutical giants that manufacture them.
However, a growing body of scientific research — including a new study published by the AIDS medical journal — and a video released last month by the Virginia-based Population Research Institute, reports that the drugs, labeled with black-box health warnings, are also linked to women’s increased risk of acquiring the deadly HIV virus. These drugs are being sent to the very countries where AIDS is epidemic.
Injectable contraceptives include Depo-Provera, a shot of synthetic hormones that act for at least three months, mostly by preventing ovulation, and are associated with a number of serious health risks.
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration attached a “black-box warning,” its highest-level caution, to Depo-Provera because of its significant risk of causing irreversible bone loss in women. It mandates that women be informed of the risk and not use the drug for more than two years.
The three-minute Population Research Institute video describes how Depo-Provera is also documented to weaken women’s immune systems. In addition, it can thin tissue in sexual organs, making it easier for viruses like HIV, linked to AIDS, to enter the bloodstream. “Once there, it is harder for her Depo-weakened immune system to fight off the infection,” the voice-over explains.
More than 40 million people are living with AIDS. And 1 million people die of the disease each year, most of them living in Sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the Depo-Provera-like drugs are shipped each year, via groups like USAID and the Clinton Health Access Initiative.
“The United States government knows Depo is dangerous,” adds PRI. “It warns American women not to take more than eight doses in a row, but then it turns around and orders massive amounts of the drug and sends them to the very countries gripped by an HIV epidemic. Millions upon millions of doses of Depo to African women, every year.”
PRI’s video was released the same week the journal AIDS published its new study on drugs containing the Depo-Provera chemical, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate or DMPA. It concludes that “new information increases concerns about DMPA and HIV-acquisition risk in women” and states that if they are causally linked, the drugs have a hazard ratio of 1.5, or raise women’s risk of contracting HIV by 50%.
“This underscores the need to consider next steps on this issue carefully, in terms of clinical guidelines and further research,” said Chelsea Polis, the review’s lead author and senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of International Planned Parenthood.
Other documented risks of Depo-Provera include aggressive breast cancer, stroke, blood clots in lungs, limbs and eyes, and loss of fertility or delayed fertility after stopping Depo-Provera, and ectopic pregnancy. Many women complain of side-effects, including weight gain, hair loss, ovarian cysts, acne, suicidal depression, loss of libido, emotional flatness, nervousness, loss of menstruation and mood swings.
A ‘Critical Priority’
A 2011 press release from the Gates Foundation stated that there was conflicting evidence “over the past 15 years” on the question of the Depo/HIV connection. “Without a stronger evidence base,” it said, “the [Gates] foundation believes changes in policies and standards may not be warranted before the WHO evaluation of available evidence in early 2012.” It added that the question was a “critical priority.”