Education And Debate

What can we do to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV?

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 26 January 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:218
  1. James McIntyre (, director,
  2. Glenda Gray, director
  1. Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, PO Bertsham, Johannesburg 2013, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to: J McIntyre

    In rich countries antiretroviral treatment in pregnancy has been highly successful in reducing transmission of HIV from mother to child. James McIntyre and Glenda Gray examine whether the success of that treatment—and other strategies, such as changing infant feeding practices—can be repeated in poor countries, which lack both money and infrastructure

    HIV infection and AIDS threaten to reverse the gains made in child survival through the more widespread use of childhood vaccines and improved management of diarrhoeal and acute respiratory infections. Although the use of antiretroviral prophylaxis has dramatically reduced mother to child transmission of HIV in the world's rich countries, the effects of these interventions on infant and child survival in poor countries remain undocumented. Our knowledge of the mechanisms and timing of transmission, associated risk factors, and successful methods to reduce the risk have improved over the past decade. Indeed we know how to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV in even the worst affected regions. 1 2

    The World Health Organization has promoted a three pronged approach to reducing mother to child transmission: the prevention of (a) new infections in parents to be, (b) unwanted pregnancies in HIV infected women, and (c) transmission from an HIV infected mother to her infant. The focus to date has been on strategies to prevent transmission to the infant; much is known about these strategies, but the challenge remains in their implementation.

    Summary points

    Over 600 000 infants worldwide are infected with HIV from their mothers each year

    Transmission rates are as high as 35% when there is no intervention and below 5% when antiretroviral treatment and appropriate care are available

    Antiretroviral treatment, as long or short course prophylaxis or for treatment of maternal condition, reduces the risk of mother to child transmission

    Breast feeding is a major contributing factor to mother …

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