HIV can be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby while the baby is still in the womanís uterus or, more commonly, during childbirth. The virus can also be transmitted through the motherís breast milk during breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission accounts for 90 percent of all cases of AIDS in children. Mother-to-child transmission is particularly prevalent in Africa, where the number of women infected with HIV is ten times the rate found in other regions. Studies conducted in several cities in southern Africa in 1998 indicate that up to 45 percent of pregnant women in these cities carry HIV
What is mother-to-child transmission?
Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is when an HIV positive woman passes the virus to her baby. This can occur during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or breastfeeding. Without treatment, around 15-30% of babies born to HIV positive women will become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery. A further 5-20% will become infected through breastfeeding.
Is MTCT a major problem?
In 2007, around 370,000 children under 15 became infected with HIV, mainly through mother-to-child transmission. About 90% of these MTCT infections occurred in Africa where AIDS is beginning to reverse decades of steady progress in child survival.
In high income countries MTCT has been virtually eliminated thanks to effective voluntary testing and counselling, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and the widespread availability and safe use of breast-milk substitutes. If these interventions were used worldwide, they could save the lives of thousands of children each year.
How can MTCT be prevented (PMTCT)?
Effective prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) requires a three-fold strategy.4 5
Preventing HIV infection among prospective parents
Avoiding unwanted pregnancies among HIV positive women
Preventing the transmission of HIV from HIV positive mothers to their infants during pregnancy, labour, delivery and breastfeeding.
The last of these can be achieved by the use of antiretroviral drugs, safer infant feeding practices and other interventions.