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Tag Archives: Depo Provera

Institutionalizing Violence Against Women (and Men)

It is not news that injectible Depo Provera (DMPA, a hormonal contraceptive) doubles the risk of HIV negative women being infected, and doubles the risk of HIV positive women infecting their sexual partner with HIV. Nor is it news that injectible Depo is mostly used in developing countries, and among non-white people in the US. Therefore, it tends to be used in places where HIV prevalence is higher, and among populations with higher prevalence in low prevalence countries.

Why use injectible Depo when this is well known? Defenders of the product claim that using it cuts other risks, such as unplanned pregnancies, particularly among HIV positive women. They feel this mitigates the risk of transmitting the virus, or of becoming infected. Strange logic, but such is the mindset of the HIV industry, and those who (very strenuously and aggressively) defend the use of injectible Depo.

If various NGOs, public health programs, research programs and others wanted to carry out their work ethically, they would tell the women (and hopefully their sexual partners) about the doubling in risk of HIV transmission, but the warnings given are vague. Therefore, women (and men) are put at increased risk of being infected with HIV, or of infecting others. Many of these same NGOs, their funders and associates would also claim to be opposed to violence against women. But failing to inform them about the increased risk constitutes violence against women (and men).

Stupider still is the proposal to use PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, antiretroviral drugs taken to prevent infection) to reduce the risk that injectible Depo will increase HIV transmission. Why not just use a different hormonal contraceptive, preferably an oral form? Well, one of the arguments for not using an oral form is that some sexual partners may object to women using oral contraceptives, especially if they are married to the woman. It is argued that women can be given Depo Provera once every three months, without their sexual partner knowing.

But will the partner not wonder why the woman is taking oral PrEP? And if they try to find out why she is taking it, may they not also find out that the woman is HIV positive, believes her sexual partner to be HIV positive, or is taking injectible contraceptives? Are we not back to square one?

Where are the narcissistic ‘feminist’ stars of film, music and other arts when you need them? They are too busy screaming about what sex workers want (or should want) to see real violence against women, happening right in front of them. Many of those being (aggressively) persuaded to use injectible Depo Provera are sex workers (or are believed to be by those doing the persuading). What about their right to know the risks from injectible hormonal contraceptive to themselves and their partners?

It is claimed that using injectible Depo Provera can protect women from violence; but it also constitutes an act of violence against them and their sexual partners. In addition, the ‘protective’ value of Depo Provera (against violence, not HIV) is lost if the woman also takes PrEP (to protect her against HIV). The use of injectible Depo Provera is an act of institutionalized violence against women (and men). It should not be used as a vehicle for selling pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Depo Provera and Circumcision: Violence Against Women Masquerading as Research

Although there are plenty of instances of institutionally sanctioned violence against women, this blog post is about two very prominent instances: mass male circumcision programs [*Greg Boyle, cited below; one of the most up to date publications on the subject, which cites many of the seminal works] and the aggressive promotion of the dangerous injectible contraceptive, Depo Provera (DMPA).

Why are mass male circumcision (MMC) programs instances of violence against women? Well, three trials of MMC were carried out to show that it reduced female to male transmission of HIV. They were show trials, with the entire process monitored to ensure that it gave the results that the researchers wanted. These trials have been cited countless times by popular and academic publications.

Less frequently cited was a single trial of MMC that was intended to show that it reduced male to female transmission of HIV. None of these four trials were independent of each other and the female to male trials produced suspiciously similar results, despite taking place in different countries, with ostensibly different teams. But the single male to female trial showed the opposite to what the researchers wanted: circumcision increased HIV transmission, considerably.

During all four of the trials, male participants were not required to inform their partner if they were found to be HIV positive, or if they became infected during the trial. If there had been any ethical oversight, those refusing to inform their partner would have been excluded from the trial. This is what would have happened in western countries, including the one that funded the research, the US.

Given that many women and men believe that circumcision protects a man from HIV, these MMC programs are giving HIV positive men the means to have possibly unprotected sex with HIV negative women. Many women and men were infected with HIV during the four show trials and almost all of those infections could have been avoided. How participants became infected during the trials has never been investigated, which is not only unethical, but also renders the trials useless.

Despite Depo Provera use substantially increasing the risk of HIV positive women infecting their sexual partners, and the risk of HIV positive men infecting women using the deadly contraceptive, this is the favored contraceptive method for many of the biggest NGOs (many of the biggest NGOs are engaged in population control of some kind). Therefore, its use is far more common in poor countries (especially among sex workers) and among non-white populations in rich countries.

These two instances of violence against women (and men) are funded by the likes of CDC, UNAIDS and the Gates Foundation. Many research papers extolling the virtues of MMC and Depo Provera are paid for by such institutions, copiously cited by them in publications, and constantly wheeled out as examples of successful global health programs. Yet, they are both responsible for countless numbers of avoidable HIV infections.

There is currently a lot of institutional maundering about violence against women and certain instances of it, but some of these same institutions are taking part in the perpetration of it; they are funding it, making money and careers out of it, promoting themselves and their activities on the back of what is entirely unethical. Why do Institutional Review Boards, peer reviewers and academics, donors and others seem happy to ignore these travesties? Who is it that decides that this is all OK, when it clearly is not?

Why are these not considered to be unethical: aggressively promoting the use of a dangerous medication, and an invasive operation that will neither protect men nor women? Is it because those promoting them are making a lot of money out of them, because the victims are mostly poor, non-white people, because the research and programs take place in poor countries, because ethics is nice in principle but too expensive in practice…? Or all of the above and more?

* Boyle, G. J. (2013). Critique of African RCTs into male circumcision and HIV sexual transmission. In G. C. Denniston et al. (Eds.), Genital cutting: Protecting children from medical, cultural, and religious infringements. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-6407-1_15

Depo Provera Hormonal Contraceptive, ‘Sayana Press’ and the Population Control Bruderbond

In developing countries “the risk for maternal death during childbirth can be as high as 1 in 15“. One might expect this horrifying statistic to be used as an argument for adequate and safe maternal healthcare. Instead, it is being used to sell Depo Provera hormonal contraceptive for Pfizer, administered via a device claimed to be ‘innovative’.

The device in question, the ‘Sayana Press’, may reduce the risks of needles and syringes being reused, and (hopefully) of single doses being split between two people. But calling something ‘innovative’ does not guarantee its safety, and the hope is that the drug can also be self-administered, in addition to being administered by community based health teams.

However, Depo Provera has been found to double the risk of HIV negative women being infected with the virus through sex with an infected partner, and double the risk of HIV positive women transmitting it to a HIV negative sexual partner. In the case of Depo Provera, population control, reducing the number of births in developing countries, is being prioritized over protecting women from being infected with and with transmitting HIV.

The citation above from one of PATH’s blogs starts off talking about the long walk some women have to ‘access’ contraception, the long queue they have to wait in, the use of a smaller needle, etc. But dressing this up as an exercise in ‘enabling’ women or genuine service provision is pure humbug.

The Don’t Get Stuck with HIV Collective is in favor of access to healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare, as long as that healthcare is safe. Depo Provera is not safe. The World Health Organization has accepted that it is not safe, but has decided that reducing birth is more important than safety, and even than reducing HIV transmission.

The blog goes on about reaching women in remote areas. Women in remote areas are far less likely to be infected with HIV than women in urban areas, or women living close to major roads, health facilities and other modern amenities. But the use of Depo Provera may be the very factor that increases risk under such circumstances.

‘Getting health services out to people’ is only desirable when those health services are safe. True, many women want to limit the size of their families, presumably many men do, too. But giving people options must include knowledge about healthcare safety and awareness about non-sexual risks from unsafe healthcare, dangerous pharmaceutical products like Depo Provera, and even the many vested interests that various parties in the population control bruderbond may prefer to keep to themselves.

Insidious use of words like ‘innovative’, ‘community’, ‘village’ and the like are great when raising funds or carrying out PR activities, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that, in the case of a dangerous drug like Depo Provera, it is not the method of delivery that presents the increased risk of HIV transmission, but the drug itself.

Healthcare is a human right, and an inherently good thing; but unsafe healthcare is the complete opposite of what people in developing countries with serious HIV (also hepatitis, TB, ebola, MRSA, etc) epidemics need. Depo Provera has been found to be unsafe. Creating demand for it, therefore, is not in the interest of people living in poor countries; it only benefits Pfizer, and the many organizations and institutions that have been attracted to the potential funding it represents.