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Babies need better HIV protection in Africa

Only about half the babies born to mothers with HIV are getting the prevention drugs they need to stay HIV/Aids free, a new study reveals.

A study released yesterday (Wednesday) to coincide with the International Aids Conference found that only 51 per cent of HIV-exposed babies in parts of Africa were given just one dose of the anti-retroviral drug, nevirapine – the frontline weapon for preventing mothers passing the virus to their babies.

Using nevirapine can reduce a baby's chances of catching HIV by more than 40 per cent, according to The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids.

To prevent the virus being passed on, the mother needs one tablet of the drug before she gives birth and the baby then needs another when it is born. But research in Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa and Zambia, found that more than a quarter of mums-to-be did not take the nevirapine pill and health workers sometimes failed to give out the drug or check that mothers had taken it. Also some mothers and their health workers were unaware of their HIV-positive status.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was partly based on data collected from umbilical cord blood samples.

Dr Elizabeth Stringer of Zambia's Centre for Infectious Disease Research, lead author of the study, said the findings showed that pregnant women and infants missed the chance to prevent mother –to-baby HIV transmission at many stages of antenatal care, from a woman's first  clinic visit through until when the baby was born.

"Non-adherence was significant," Stringer told US news service, HealthDay news. "What this study shows is that when these women, who had forgotten to take their nevirapine came to the clinic, no one recognised that they had forgotten; no one recognized that they were HIV-positive and needed it."

Poor medical record storage was one reason that women were missed, she explained because in many areas, women carried their health records with them, while clinics often collected records in several, paper-based logs. And that system made it hard to keep track of any one woman, even during just nine months of pregnancy.

The study recommended younger HIV-positive pregnant women are given better and more counselling and for clinics to offer couples counselling to try and tackle the stigma, which that stops some HIV-positive pregnant women from using prevention services.

The World Health Organisation this week also called for earlier HIV testing for women after they become pregnant and earlier treatment with antiretroviral drugs for both their own health and to halt transmission to their babies.

Hayley attribution