Appropriate Treatment Methods Can Prevent Nearly All Risk of Mother-To-Child HIV Transmission, Study Says
Providing appropriate treatment methods to HIV-positive women during pregnancy can prevent nearly all risk of mother-to-child transmission of the virus, according to a study published online Wednesday in the journal AIDS, the PA/Google.com reports (Kirby, PA/Google.com, 5/6).
For the study, Claire Townsend, research fellow at the University College London Institute of Child Health, and colleagues analyzed 5,151 pregnancies among HIV-positive women in the United Kingdom and Ireland between 2000 and 2006. The study found that the rate of MTCT decreased to 1.2% from 20% in the mid-1990s.
According to the researchers, the primary reason for the decline was the increase in prenatal HIV testing following the implementation of routine screening policies in the countries, BBC News reports. Routine screening increased diagnosis rates before delivery from about 70% in 2000 to about 95% in 2005, data showed (BBC News, 5/6). Routine screening policies were introduced in Ireland in 1999 and between 2000 and 2003 in the United Kingdom, the PA/Google.com reports.
Expanded access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive pregnant women also was a factor, researchers said. The HIV transmission rate for women taking antiretroviral therapy for a minimum of two weeks prior to delivery was 0.8%, according to the study (PA/Google.com, 5/6). The rate was found regardless of the type of antiretrovirals the women received or whether they had vaginal births or cesarean sections, the study found.
It was the first time such low rates of MTCT have been found at a population level, researchers said (BBC News, 5/6). Townsend said, "Continuing to improve the offer and uptake of antenatal HIV testing could have a significant impact on further reducing MTCT, since most perinatally acquired infection is now in infants whose mothers are among the approximately 5% of infected women who remain undiagnosed at delivery" (PA/Google.com, 5/6). She also said, "This emphasizes the importance of achieving and maintaining a high uptake of antenatal HIV testing on a national scale."
Lisa Power of the Terrence Higgins Trust said, "With the right treatment and relevant support, the vast majority of women living with HIV can have healthy uninfected children," adding, "This is why testing for HIV in pregnancy is so important and why treatment for pregnant women living with HIV in the [United Kingdom] should always be free, whatever their immigration status" (BBC News, 5/6).
The study is available online.