Malaria Drug May Reduce HIV Vertical Transmission Through Breast Milk, Study Finds
A "cheap and widely available" anti-malarial medication may be able to reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, according to research results published in a recent issue of the journal AIDS, Reuters Health reports. In laboratory tests, Dr. Johan Boelaert of Algemeen Ziekenhuis St-Jan in Brugge, Belgium, and his colleagues found that the drug chloroquine, which has been found to slow the replication of HIV in previous research, "accumulates in high concentrations" in breast-milk cells. The research indicates that women with HIV could take the drug to reduce the level of HIV in their breast milk, therefore lowering their risk of passing on the virus to their children. Breastfeeding may account for "up to half" of all vertical transmissions of HIV. Dr. Andrea Savarino of Italy's University of Turin, who authored an earlier study connecting the anti-malaria medication to its anti-HIV properties, called the results "encouraging." Boelaert and his research team are currently planning a study to be conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa examining the effect of the drug on the levels of HIV in the breast milk of HIV-positive women. If chloroquine does indeed reduce the risk of vertical transmission of HIV through breast milk, as future studies may show, it would have a significant impact on the AIDS epidemic, Savarino stated. "Chloroquine is the cheapest of any drug having anti-HIV activity and could therefore be afforded by developing countries where breastfeeding is an important route of HIV transmission," Savarino said. The study authors stated that in addition to being inexpensive, chloroquine is also widely available and causes relatively few side effects. Finally, because the malaria treatment does not "carry any social stigma" related to AIDS as antiretrovirals do, Boelaert said that he hopes HIV-positive women who wish to breastfeed can use this drug without fear of revealing their HIV status (McKinney, Reuters Health, 12/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.