HIV: Saving One Life at a Time. Preventing infants from getting HIV from their mothers

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Morning Forum speaker addresses crisis of HIV infections in 3rd-world newborns
Dr. Arthur Ammann said 80 percent to 85 percent of HIV infections in newborns occur in resource-poor countries.

The March 3 session of the Morning Forum of Los Altos did not offer a light-hearted program. Dr. Arthur Ammann, clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco Medical Center and founder/president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, addressed a sober topic, “HIV: Saving One Life at a Time: Preventing Infants from Getting Infected with HIV from Their Mothers.”

Ammann said that during the 28 years of the AIDS epidemic, tremendous progress has been made in developed countries, with 27 drugs available to treat the disease.

However, today 80 percent to 85 percent of the infections are in resource-poor countries where the drugs are too expensive to be available to the most needy. There the emphasis must be on prevention.

Global Strategies, a non-profit, nongovernmental, nonpolitically aligned independent organization, is committed to preventing HIV infection and caring for those affected by HIV in underdeveloped countries.

More than 1,600 newborns are infected through their mothers every day in those countries. But, for the low cost of less than $1, transmission of HIV from mother to baby can be cut by 50 percent in poor countries, according to Ammann.

Nevirapine, an anti-retroviral costing less than $1 per treatment, given to both the HIV-infected mother and child at the time of delivery can reduce infection approximately 90 percent. The therapy works effectively because 60 percent to 70 percent of HIV infections occur during birth.

Global Strategies provides the drug in the Dominican Republic, Liberia and the Congo, because such countries don’t receive international aid. Liberia’s population of 3.5 million could be treated for $300,000, but although people in the cities are receiving treatments, those in the country still are not.

A major way to prevent the spread of HIV is to protect young women from infection.

A woman who has sex with an infected man is eight times more likely to become infected than vice versa, Ammann said. Rape is used as a weapon of war in many countries to make a woman useless to herself, family, community and culture.

Ammann said it is possible to give a woman a prophylaxis kit that can prevent pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Global Strategies for HIV Prevention is working on all these issues.

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