By Lisa Correnti and Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
WASHINGTON, DC, October 18 (C-FAM) Melinda Gates’ campaign targeting African women with a new form of the contraceptive Depo Provera has provoked a coalition of Black religious leaders and human rights advocates. They are asking the U.S. Congress to stop funding the distribution of the injectable contraceptive overseas.
The leaders, who support abortion and contraception, say women of color and low-income women suffer severe health issues from Depo Provera. A new self-administered version puts women at further risk as it will be delivered without them being fully informed of the drug’s potential side effects. The contraceptive carries the potential to contract or transmit HIV at an eight-fold higher rate.
The wife of billionaire Bill Gates recently told the New York Times that she championed family planning after meeting with poor women in developing countries. The women wanted a contraceptive that comes in a shot, Gates said, because they could not negotiate condom use without implying that either they or their husbands had AIDS.
Kwame Fosu says Melinda Gates’ claim that women want Depo Provera is “disingenuous.”
“No African woman would agree to being injected if she had full knowledge of the contraceptives’ dangerous side effects,” Fosu told the Friday Fax. Fosu is policy director for the Rebecca Project for Human Rights.
“In fact,” he continued, “in countries where women are educated on the harmful complications, Depo Provera use is negligible.”
Gates’ comments illustrate an on-going conflict between public health officials’ efforts to contain the AIDS epidemic and family planning advocates who favor long-acting hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Unlike condoms, these methods do nothing to prevent HIV transmission.
In the case of Depo Provera, the risks of HIV transmission actually increase, according to data published in The Lancet. The World Health Organization strongly advises that women using progestogen-only injectable contraception also use condoms. Planned Parenthood – one of the largest international distributors of Depo Provera – does not recommend condom use nor do they disclose potential side effects.
Gates, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), United Nations Population Fund, and PATH, have spent billions of dollars to develop a new version of Depo Provera called Sayana Press: a subcutaneous injection that can be self-administered and hidden from a spouse. A pilot program to reach women in rural areas is underway in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.
A briefing last month sponsored by the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus featured human rights activists requesting Congress stop funding Depo Provera and enforce mandatory FDA warnings for patient counseling. Fosu believes the new “Uniject” delivery system of Sayana Press will allow USAID to “circumvent and violate” these FDA regulations.
The briefing was co-sponsored by the Rebecca Project, which published a report documenting unethical human experimentation and the racial targeting of population control programs by the U.S., the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, United Nations Population Fund, Planned Parenthood, Population Council, and the Gates Foundation.
The report cites Pfizer’s history of producing harmful contraceptives. Norplant – pulled from the U.S. after multiple lawsuits – continues to be distributed in Africa through a licensing agreement with Bayer. According to WSJ Market Watch, Pfizer stands to make up to $36 billion from Depo Provera.
Depo Provera is linked to numerous side effects, including a doubled risk of breast cancer, stroke, irreversible bone density loss, a reduction in resistance to infection, unintended sterility, and birth defects such as congenital heart disease if accidentally injected in a pregnant woman.
This article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). This article appears with permission.