Reducing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission

Anti HIV drug for breastfeeding mothers prevents infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Breastfeeding your baby is designed by nature to nurture and protect your child. But for mothers with HIV, breastfeeding nearly doubles their risk of passing on the virus to their baby.

Breastfeeding can account for 30 – 40 percent of all cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Studies have shown that giving children daily doses of antiretroviral drugs while they're breastfeeding can reduce the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

A new study found that the antiretroviral drug nevirapine can be safely given for up to six months while the mother is breastfeeding her infant.

"Children should receive treatment if they're being breastfed by HIV-positive mothers."

The study was led by Hoosen M Coovadia, MD and Kathy George of Family Health International. Their research built on studies that showed that nevirapine, an HIV-inhibiting drug, is more effective at preventing HIV transmission through the first 6, 14, and 28 weeks of life than a single dose at birth or the first few weeks of life.

The study enrolled over 1500 infants in four African countries, the center of the HIV epidemic. The infants were divided up into three groups. All were given nevirapine through the first six weeks of life.

After the first six weeks, they were divided into two groups. The first group continued getting a daily dose of the drug until six months, or when the mother stopped breastfeeding, whichever happened first. The second group of infants got a placebo dose.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that 1.1 percent of infants who had the extended drug regimen had become HIV-positive, compared to 2.4 percent in the second group. That equates to a 54 percent reduction in transmission.

The authors concluded, “Our results, in addition to the published data for the efficacy of 6, 14, and 28 weeks of infant nevirapine, show the consistent benefit and safety of nevirapine for prevention of HIV-1 transmission via breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life.”

However, they added that drugs alone cannot end all mother-to-child transmissions. The researchers believe that will require a “multifaceted approach,” including identifying pregnant women who have HIV, and prioritizing their health and treatment.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet in December 2011.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 22, 2011
Last Updated:
December 26, 2011