Subfertility among HIV-affected couples in a safer conception cohort in South Africa

Jessica R. Iyer, Annelies Van Rie, Sabina A. Haberlen, Mutsa Mudavanhu, Lillian Mutunga, Jean Bassett, Sheree R. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Subfertility among couples affected by HIV has an impact on the well-being of couples who desire to have children and may prolong HIV exposure. Subfertility in the antiretroviral therapy era and its determinants have not yet been well characterized. Objective: The objective of the study was to investigate the burden and determinants of subfertility among HIV-affected couples seeking safer conception services in South Africa. Study Design: Nonpregnant women and male partners in HIV seroconcordant or HIV discordant relationships desiring a child were enrolled in the Sakh'umndeni safer conception cohort at Witkoppen Clinic in Johannesburg between July 2013 and April 2017. Clients were followed up prospectively through pregnancy (if they conceived) or until 6 months of attempted conception, after which they were referred for infertility services. Subfertility was defined as not having conceived within 6 months of attempted conception. Robust Poisson regression was used to assess the association between baseline characteristics and subfertility outcomes; inverse probability weighting was used to account for missing data from women lost to safer conception care before 6 months of attempted conception. Results: Among 334 couples enrolled, 65% experienced subfertility (inverse probability weighting weighted, 95% confidence interval, 0.59–0.73), of which 33% were primary subfertility and 67% secondary subfertility. Compared with HIV-negative women, HIV-positive women not on antiretroviral therapy had a 2-fold increased risk of subfertility (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 2.00; 95% confidence interval, 1.19–3.34). Infertility risk was attenuated in women on antiretroviral therapy but remained elevated, even after ≥2 years on antiretroviral therapy (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 1.63; 95% confidence interval, 0.98–2.69). Other factors associated with subfertility were female age (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 1.03, 95% confidence interval, 1.01–1.05 per year), male HIV-positive status (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 1.31; 95% confidence interval, 1.02–1.68), male smoking (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 1.29; 95% confidence interval, 1.05–1.60), and trying to conceive for ≥1 year (weighted and adjusted risk ratio, 1.38; 95% confidence interval, 1.13–1.68). Conclusion: Two in 3 HIV-affected couples experienced subfertility. HIV-positive women were at increased risk of subfertility, even when on antiretroviral therapy. Both male and female HIV status were associated with subfertility. Subfertility is an underrecognized reproductive health problem in resource-limited settings and may contribute to prolonged HIV exposure and transmission within couples. Low-cost approaches for screening and treating subfertility in this population are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48.e1-48.e18
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics and gynecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • HIV
  • fertility
  • safer conception
  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • subfertility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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