Medical and surgical abortion for women living with HIV

Haneefa T Saleem, Manjulaa Narasimhan, Bela Ganatra, Caitlin E Kennedy
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018 December 19, 12: CD012834

BACKGROUND: The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for safe abortion recommend medical abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol or surgical abortion with vacuum aspiration or dilation and evacuation as safe and effective options for women. However, no specific clinical considerations are stipulated within these guidelines for women living with HIV. Concerns have been raised that women living with HIV may be at greater risk of adverse abortion outcomes compared to HIV-uninfected women due to immunosuppression, high rates of co-infection with other sexually transmitted infections, and possible contraindications between medications used for medical abortion and antiretroviral therapy regimens.

OBJECTIVES: Our primary objective was to assess the effectiveness and safety of medical versus surgical abortion among women living with HIV. Our secondary objectives were to: (1) compare outcomes of medical and surgical abortion between women living with HIV and women without HIV and (2) describe outcomes of medical and surgical abortion among women living with HIV.

SEARCH METHODS: We conducted our search on 17 April 2018. We searched for all published and unpublished trials and observational studies of medical and surgical abortion among women living with HIV. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL,, and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform using a combination of terms for abortion and HIV. We searched conference websites for relevant abstracts. We also sought unpublished data stratified by HIV status that could be newly analyzed.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We considered randomized controlled trials (RCTs), non-RCTs, and observational studies. We considered: (1) studies on the effectiveness and safety of medical versus surgical abortion among women living with HIV; (2) studies comparing outcomes of abortion for both methods between women living with HIV and women without HIV; and (3) studies that described outcomes of abortion among women living with HIV.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: One review author screened the titles, abstracts, citation information, and descriptor terms for citations initially identified by the search. We obtained the full-text articles of all potentially eligible studies when these were available. Two review authors independently examined the full-text articles for compliance with the inclusion criteria and determination of final study selection. We planned to conduct meta-analysis if a sufficient number of studies (at least three) addressed the same research question and presented data on sufficiently comparable outcomes.

MAIN RESULTS: Of 3840 records screened, we identified just one conference abstract that met our inclusion criteria. This prospective cohort study assessed the efficacy and acceptability of home administration of misoprostol for early medical abortion among women living with HIV who were of less than 63 days amenorrhea in Ukraine. Medical abortion was effective in 65 of 68 cases (96%) examined. The small number of failures included incomplete abortion (n = 1), heavy bleeding (n = 1), and ongoing pregnancy (n = 1). There were no serious infections.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Due to the paucity of studies, we were unable to determine if outcome differences exist between women living with HIV and women without HIV who undergo medical or surgical abortion. We found no evidence suggesting that medical or surgical abortions are unsafe for women living with HIV. While additional research would strengthen the evidence base, healthcare providers should not be deterred from providing access to safe abortion to their patients living with HIV.

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