The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that HIV-positive women, especially in developing countries, breastfeed their babies for at least 12 months. When the mothers themselves were taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, the risk of transmission is about 0.2% per month, thus 2.4% in total over 12 months of breastfeeding. Researchers have now revealed that giving anti-AIDS drugs directly to infants breastfed by their HIV-positive mothers significantly reduces their risk of contracting the killer virus.
Less than 1.5% of children, given one of two anti-viral drugs during 12 months of breastfeeding, caught the virus from their mothers, said a study published in The Lancet
‘When HIV-positive mothers take antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, the risk of virus transmission is about 2.4% over 12 months of breastfeeding. This risk of HIV transmission from mother-to-child was observed to have reduced to less than 1.5% when anti-AIDS drugs were directly given to infants.’
This was the first study to assess the effectiveness of AIDS drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission in infants breastfed for longer than six months.
The study was done before the UN's health organ decided earlier this year that all people living with HIV should be given ARVs regardless of the level of CD4 immune cells in their body, a measure of HIV progression.
Previously, ARV treatment had been recommended from a level of about 350 cells per cubic millimeter - compared to about 500-1,200 in a healthy person.
The researchers tested two drugs given directly to the infants - lamivudine and lopinavir - and found they were equally effective.
Existing treatments help infected people live longer, healthier lives by delaying and subduing symptoms, but do not cure AIDS.
Many people in poor communities do not have access to the life-giving drugs, and there is no preventive vaccine.
The study authors said, "This finding justifies the extension of infant pre-exposure prophylaxis until the end of HIV exposure through breastfeeding. There is need to inform mothers about the persistent risk of transmission throughout breastfeeding to prevent them stopping giving the treatment to their babies too soon."
The team found that most of the HIV infections in the study groups were due to treatment being stopped.
To this end, more research was needed for a more palatable baby medicine, or potentially long-acting injectable drugs.