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      Antiretroviral Treatment and Prevention of Peripartum and Postnatal HIV Transmission in West Africa: Evaluation of a Two-Tiered Approach

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          Highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) has only been recently recommended for HIV-infected pregnant women requiring treatment for their own health in resource-limited settings. However, there are few documented experiences from African countries. We evaluated the short-term (4 wk) and long-term (12 mo) effectiveness of a two-tiered strategy of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in Africa: women meeting the eligibility criteria of the World Health Organization (WHO) received HAART, and women with less advanced HIV disease received short-course antiretroviral (scARV) PMTCT regimens.

          Methods and Findings

          The MTCT-Plus Initiative is a multi-country, family-centred HIV care and treatment program for pregnant and postpartum women and their families. Pregnant women enrolled in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire received either HAART for their own health or short-course antiretroviral (scARV) PMTCT regimens according to their clinical and immunological status. Plasma HIV-RNA viral load (VL) was measured to diagnose peripartum infection when infants were 4 wk of age, and HIV final status was documented either by rapid antibody testing when infants were aged ≥ 12 mo or by plasma VL earlier. The Kaplan-Meier method was used to estimate the rate of HIV transmission and HIV-free survival. Between August 2003 and June 2005, 107 women began HAART at a median of 30 wk of gestation, 102 of them with zidovudine (ZDV), lamivudine (3TC), and nevirapine (NVP) and they continued treatment postpartum; 143 other women received scARV for PMTCT, 103 of them with sc(ZDV+3TC) with single-dose NVP during labour. Most (75%) of the infants were breast-fed for a median of 5 mo. Overall, the rate of peripartum HIV transmission was 2.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.3%–4.2%) and the cumulative rate at 12 mo was 5.7% (95% CI 2.5%–9.0%). The overall probability of infant death or infection with HIV was 4.3% (95% CI 1.7%–7.0%) at age week 4 wk and 11.7% (95% CI 7.5%–15.9%) at 12 mo.


          This two-tiered strategy appears to be safe and highly effective for short- and long-term PMTCT in resource-constrained settings. These results indicate a further benefit of access to HAART for pregnant women who need treatment for their own health.


          In an observational cohort study from Côte d'Ivoire, François Dabis and colleagues report on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission among women receiving antiretroviral therapy according to World Health Organization recommendations.

          Editors' Summary


          Effective treatments are available to prevent AIDS in people who are infected with HIV, but not everyone with HIV needs to take medication. Usually, anti-HIV medication is recommended only for those whose immune systems have been significantly affected by the virus, as evidenced by symptoms or by the results of a blood test, the CD4 lymphocyte (“T cell”) count. Treating HIV usually requires a combination of three or more medications. These combinations (called HAART) must be taken every day, can cause complications, and can be expensive.

          Worldwide, more than half a million children became infected with HIV each year. Most of these children acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy or around the time of birth. If a pregnant woman with HIV takes HAART, her chances of passing HIV to the baby are greatly reduced, but the possible side effects of HAART on the baby are not known. Also, most transmission of HIV from mothers to babies occurs in poor countries where supplies of HAART are limited. For these reasons, World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend that every pregnant woman receive HAART to prevent HIV transmission to the baby, unless the woman needs HAART for her own health (for example if her T cells are low or she has severe symptoms of HIV infection). For pregnant women with HIV who do not need to take HAART for their own health, less complicated treatments, involving a short course of one or two HIV drugs, can be used to reduce the risk of passing HIV to the baby.

          Why Was This Study Done?

          The WHO recommendations for HAART in pregnancy are based on the best available evidence, but it is important to know how well they work in actual practice. The authors of this study were providing HIV treatment to pregnant women with HIV in West Africa through an established clinic program in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and wanted to see how well the WHO recommendations for HAART or short-course treatments, depending on the mother's condition, were working to protect babies from HIV infection.

          What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

          The researchers studied 250 HIV-infected pregnant women who received HIV medications in the Abidjan program between mid-2003 and mid-2005. In accordance with WHO guidelines, 107 women began HAART for their own health during pregnancy, and 143 women did not qualify for HAART but received other short course treatments (scARV) to prevent HIV transmission to their babies. The authors monitored mothers and babies for treatment side effects and tested the babies for HIV infection up to age 1 y.

          They found that HAART was relatively safe during pregnancy, although babies born to women on HAART were more likely (26.3%) to have low birth weight than babies born to women who received scARV (12.4%). Also, 7.5% of women on HAART developed side effects requiring a change in their medications. Combining the results from HAART and scART groups, the chance of HIV transmission around the time of birth was 2.2%, increasing to 5.7% at age 1 y. (Three-quarters of the infants were breast-fed; safe water for mixing formula was not reliably available.) The study found no difference in risk of HIV infection between babies whose mothers received HAART and those whose mothers received scARV according to guidelines.

          What Do These Findings Mean?

          These results support the safety and effectiveness of the WHO two-tiered approach for preventing mother-to-child transmission. This study was not designed to compare HAART to scART directly, because the women who received HAART were the ones with more advanced HIV infection, which might have affected their babies in many ways.

          Compared to earlier pregnancy studies of HAART in rich countries, this study of the WHO approach in West Africa showed similar success in protecting infants from HIV infection around the time of birth. Unfortunately, because formula feeding was not generally available in resource-limited settings, protection declined over the first year of life with breast-feeding, but some protection remained.

          This study confirms that close monitoring of pregnant women on HAART is necessary, so that drugs can be changed if side effects develop. The study does not tell us whether using scARV in pregnancy might change the virus in ways that would make it more difficult to treat the same women with HAART later if they needed it. The reason for low birth weight in some babies born to mothers on HAART is unclear. It may be because the women who needed HAART had more severe health problems from their HIV, or it may be a result of the HAART itself.

          Additional Information.

          Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at

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          Most cited references 41

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          Intrapartum and neonatal single-dose nevirapine compared with zidovudine for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in Kampala, Uganda: HIVNET 012 randomised trial.

          The AIDS Clinical Trials Group protocol 076 zidovudine prophylaxis regimen for HIV-1-infected pregnant women and their babies has been associated with a significant decrease in vertical HIV-1 transmission in non-breastfeeding women in developed countries. We compared the safety and efficacy of short-course nevirapine or zidovudine during labour and the first week of life. From November, 1997, to April, 1999, we enrolled 626 HIV-1-infected pregnant women at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. We randomly assigned mothers nevirapine 200 mg orally at onset of labour and 2 mg/kg to babies within 72 h of birth, or zidovudine 600 mg orally to the mother at onset of labour and 300 mg every 3 h until delivery, and 4 mg/kg orally twice daily to babies for 7 days after birth. We tested babies for HIV-1 infection at birth, 6-8 weeks, and 14-16 weeks by HIV-1 RNA PCR. We assessed HIV-1 transmission and HIV-1-free survival with Kaplan-Meier analysis. Nearly all babies (98.8%) were breastfed, and 95.6% were still breastfeeding at age 14-16 weeks. The estimated risks of HIV-1 transmission in the zidovudine and nevirapine groups were: 10.4% and 8.2% at birth (p=0.354); 21.3% and 11.9% by age 6-8 weeks (p=0.0027); and 25.1% and 13.1% by age 14-16 weeks (p=0.0006). The efficacy of nevirapine compared with zidovudine was 47% (95% CI 20-64) up to age 14-16 weeks. The two regimens were well tolerated and adverse events were similar in the two groups. Nevirapine lowered the risk of HIV-1 transmission during the first 14-16 weeks of life by nearly 50% in a breastfeeding population. This simple and inexpensive regimen could decrease mother-to-child HIV-1 transmission in less-developed countries.
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            Combination antiretroviral strategies for the treatment of pregnant HIV-1-infected women and prevention of perinatal HIV-1 transmission.

            The Women and Infants Transmission Study is a prospective natural history study that has been enrolling HIV-1-infected pregnant women and their infants since 1989. To evaluate the impact of different antiretroviral regimens on perinatal HIV-1 transmission at the population level. Prospective cohort study. Plasma HIV-1 RNA levels were serially measured in 1542 HIV-1-infected women with singleton live births between January 1990 and June 2000. HIV-1 status of the infant. HIV-1 transmission was 20.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 16.1%-23.9%) for 396 women who not receiving prenatal antiretroviral therapy; 10.4% (95% CI, 8.2%-12.6%) for 710 receiving zidovudine monotherapy; 3.8% (95% CI, 1.1%-6.5%) for 186 receiving dual antiretroviral therapy with no or one highly active drug (Multi-ART); and 1.2% (95% CI, 0-2.5%) for 250 receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Transmission also varied by maternal delivery HIV RNA level: 1.0% for 30,000 copies/mL (p =.0001 for trend). The odds of transmission increased 2.4-fold (95% CI, 1.7-3.5) for every log10 increase in delivery viral load. In multivariate analyses adjusting for maternal viral load, duration of therapy, and other factors, the odds ratio for transmission for women receiving Multi-ART and HAART compared with those receiving ZDV monotherapy was 0.30 (95% CI, 0.09-1.02) and 0.27 (95% CI, 0.08-0.94), respectively. Levels of HIV-1 RNA at delivery and prenatal antiretroviral therapy were independently associated with transmission. The protective effect of therapy increased with the complexity and duration of the regimen. HAART was associated with the lowest rates of transmission.
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              Mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection in the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy.

              Very low rates of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are achievable with use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). We examine risk factors for MTCT in the HAART era and describe infants who were vertically infected, despite exposure to prophylactic MTCT interventions. Of the 4525 mother-child pairs in this prospective cohort study, 1983 were enrolled during the period of January 1997 through May 2004. Factors examined included use of antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy, maternal CD4 cell count and HIV RNA level, mode of delivery, and gestational age in logistic regression analysis. Receipt of antenatal antiretroviral therapy increased from 5% at the start of the HAART era to 92% in 2001-2003. The overall MTCT rate in this period was 2.87% (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.11%-3.81%), but it was 0.99% (95% CI, 0.32%-2.30%) during 2001-2003. In logistic regression analysis that included 885 mother-child pairs, MTCT risk was associated with high maternal viral load (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 12.1; P=.003) and elective Caesarean section (AOR, 0.33; P=.04). Detection of maternal HIV RNA was significantly associated with antenatal use of antiretroviral therapy, CD4 cell count, and mode of delivery. Among 560 women with undetectable HIV RNA levels, elective Caesarean section was associated with a 90% reduction in MTCT risk (odds ratio, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.03-0.33), compared with vaginal delivery or emergency Caesarean section. Our results suggest that offering an elective Caesarean section delivery to all HIV-infected women, even in areas where HAART is available, is appropriate clinical management, especially for persons with detectable viral loads. Our results also suggest that previously identified risk factors remain important.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS Med
                PLoS Medicine
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                August 2007
                21 August 2007
                : 4
                : 8
                [1 ] MTCT-Plus Programme, ACONDA, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
                [2 ] Institut de Santé Publique, Epidémiologie et Développement, Université Victor Segalen, Bordeaux, France
                [3 ] INSERM Unité 593, Bordeaux, France
                [4 ] ANRS 1201/1202, Ditrame Plus Project, PACCI Collaboration, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
                [5 ] CeDReS Laboratory, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Treichville, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
                [6 ] MTCT-Plus Initiative, International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America
                National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, United States of America
                Author notes
                * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: francois.dabis@
                06-PLME-RA-0933R3 plme-04-08-11
                Copyright: © 2007 Tonwe-Gold et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 12
                Research Article
                Infectious Diseases
                Public Health and Epidemiology
                HIV Infection/AIDS
                Medicine in Developing Countries
                Cohort Studies
                Custom metadata
                Tonwe-Gold B, Ekouevi DK, Viho I, Amani-Bosse C, Toure S, et al. (2007) Antiretroviral treatment and prevention of peripartum and postnatal HIV transmission in West Africa: Evaluation of a two-tiered approach. PLoS Med 4(8): e257. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040257



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