Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Background: The copper intrauterine device (IUD) is under-utilised in South Africa, where injectable progestin contraception (IPC) dominates contraception usage. There is a lack of robust comparative data on these contraceptive options to inform policy, programs, clinical counseling, and women’s choices.

Methods: Within the context of a South African program to increase women’s access to the IUD, we conducted a pragmatic, open-label, parallel-arm, randomised controlled trial of the IUD versus IPC at two South African hospitals. The target sample size was 7,000 women and the randomisation ratio was 1:1. The random sequence was computer-generated and group allocation was concealed in sealed, opaque, consecutively-numbered envelopes. Counselled, consenting women attending termination of pregnancy services were randomly assigned to IUD or IPC immediately post-termination. Condoms were promoted for the prevention of sexually-transmitted infections. The primary outcome was pregnancy; secondary outcomes were discontinuation, side-effects, and HIV acquisition and disease progression. Pregnancy and discontinuation outcomes are reported here.

Results: The trial closed early with 2,493 participants randomised (IUD = 1,247, IPC = 1,246), due to international concerns regarding a possible association between IPC and HIV acquisition. Median follow-up was 20 months; 982 and 1000 participants were followed up in the IUD and IPC groups, respectively. Baseline group characteristics were comparable. Pregnancy occurred significantly less frequently among women allocated to the IUD than IPC: 56/971 (5.8 %) versus 83/992 (8.4 %), respectively; risk ratio (RR) 0.69, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.50 to 0.96; P = 0.025. There were more protocol violations in the IUD group; however, discontinuation rates were similar between IUD and IPC groups (141/855 [16.5 %] and 143/974 [14.7 %], respectively). Women in the IUD group were more likely to discontinue contraceptive use due to abdominal pain or backache and non-specific symptoms, and those in the IPC group due to oligo- or amenorhoea and lack of sexual activity.

Conclusions: The IUD was significantly more effective in preventing pregnancy than IPC. Efforts to expand contraception options and improve access to the IUD in settings where it is under-utilised are worthwhile. This trial shows that randomising long-acting, reversible contraceptives is feasible.

Trial registration: Pan African Clinical Trials Registry number PACTR201409000880157 (04-09-2014).


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Reproductive Health