Mother-To-Child Transmission: The Preventable Facet of HIV

Less than half of pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to antiretroviral treatment

Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV occurs when an HIV-positive mother infects her child during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or through breastfeeding. In 2008, a Global Summary of the AIDS Epidemic conducted by UNAIDS showed that 2.1 million children under 15 years of age were living with HIV. In this report, one of the nine goals set out for the 2009-2011 period was to “prevent mothers from dying and babies from becoming infected with HIV.” 1 Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is a crucial issue because it is one of the primary causes of HIV infection in children, and can be preventable with the right resources.  Africa, along with other low-income areas, is the hardest hit by this problem. Without effective measures or awareness campaigns to deal with mother-to-child transmission, 390 000 out of the global 430 000 children newly infected with HIV during 2008 were from sub-Saharan Africa1. With the terrible tragedy of HIV in Africa over the last few decades the best hope for the future lies with the youngest generation and everything possible must be done to see that they are born healthy so that they can receive the necessary education to help Africa recover.

Because women and girls continue to be disproportionally affected by HIV, prevention of HIV in  young women is all the more important.  As mentioned in the UNAIDS report, Africa has made great improvements in terms of PMTCT in the last few years. In 2008, 45% of pregnant women received antiretroviral drugs as opposed to 9% in 2004.1 However, treatments continue to be disproportionally distributed and implemented depending on region.

Babies born with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa have an extremely difficult, and often very short life. In the absence of treatment, 1/3 of them will die before their first birthday.2 Those that do survive will be faced with chronic health issues and will continue to need assistance from their families which are frequently grandparents as so many mothers have died. . Additionally, there is the stigma that comes with HIV infection. Though awareness campaigns have done  some to raise the level of acceptance of HIV/AIDS infected people in many African countries, there remains a disquieting amount of discrimination. They may be unable to go to school or get jobs, making them forever dependent on family members, or the state for living assistance.

MTCT of HIV is all the more frustrating because it can be prevented in most cases. Infants infected with HIV often live very difficult and short lives. With their mothers often incapacitated themselves, their care is usually relegated to other family members. This poses a problem in itself, as potentially productive members of society are dying, leaving others to pick up the slack for economic and political development. As such, it is essential to concentrate efforts towards eradicating this unnecessary component of an already deadly and capricious disease.

  1. UNAIDS. Global Summary of the AIDS Epidemic. 2008. 10. Available at:
  2. Newell, Marie-Louise et al, ‘Mortality of infected and uninfected infants born to HIV infected mothers in Africa: a pooled analysis’ Lancet 2004; 364(9441): 1236-124

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