‘Remarkable Progress’ Made in Curbing Vertical HIV Transmission in U.S., More Testing Needed in Developing Countries, Editorial Says
While it might be "overly optimistic" for public health officials to "tal[k] cautiously about seeing the last few cases" of mother-to-child HIV transmission in the United States, there is "no denying the remarkable progress that has been achieved in a relative blink of an eye," a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial says (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/1). Public health officials earlier this week announced that vertical HIV transmission, which led to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. infants annually 10 years ago, has been virtually eliminated in the United States. In 1990, nearly 2,000 U.S. infants were born HIV-positive, but that number has been cut to approximately 200 annually, health officials said. The sharp decline is due in large part to the availability of antiretroviral drugs that when given to HIV-positive pregnant women can greatly reduce their chances of passing on the virus to their fetuses and infants during pregnancy or delivery. One year after the antiretroviral AZT -- which is now known as zidovudine -- started being used to prevent vertical HIV transmission following a 1994 study of the drug, the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate was reduced to 8% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/31). However, it "takes more than medicine" to curb the spread of a virus as "complex and polarizing" as HIV, the editorial says, adding that education and "follow-through" also are needed. Although vertical HIV transmission has decreased "dramatically" in the United States, it continues to be a major problem worldwide, even as some countries have begun antiretroviral drug treatment programs, the editorial says. The "[t]rouble is" that many HIV-positive women in other countries have not been tested for HIV and do not have access to comprehensive prenatal care, according to the Post-Dispatch. "Still, the fact that public health professionals could discuss eliminating" vertical transmission in the United States is an "important milestone," the editorial says, concluding, "The hope it inspires is an all too rare commodity in the age of global pandemic" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.