Short course antiretroviral regimens to reduce maternal transmission of HIV

D. Wilkinson*, S. S A Karim, H. M. Coovadia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

14 Citations (Scopus)


The ACTG076 trial showed that a complex and expensive antiretroviral regimen reduced mother-to-child HIV transmission by 67%. A more recent Bangkok perinatal HIV study found that oral zidovudine (AZT) given during late pregnancy and labor to non-breast-feeding women reduced the rate of vertical HIV transmission by 51%. These latter findings are particularly interesting to countries unable to afford the more expensive and complex 076 regimen. The reaction to the results of the Bangkok trial may, however, threaten the health of Africa's poorest women and children. Within days of the release of the Thai data, investigators studying other regimens closed recruitment to the placebo arms of their trials, and it has recently become clear that the National Institutes for Health will probably fund no more placebo-controlled trials of interventions designed to reduce maternal HIV transmission. The use of antiretroviral drugs in Africa is unlikely to ever significantly reduce maternal HIV transmission and the incidence of pediatric AIDS. While most of Africa's women have no option to breast-feed, breast-feeding is responsible for one-third of maternal HIV transmission cases. The results of the Thai trials only partially address the needs of African women, for the nutritional, immunological, and birth spacing benefits of breast-feeding should be retained if possible, and formula feeding may stigmatize HIV-infected mothers. The short-course regimen is still expensive to developing countries, and the implementation of a costly, vertical program may also draw financial and human resources from other programs. Placebo-controlled trials to develop simple, cheap, and effective potentially non-drug interventions against vertical HIV transmission should be encouraged in settings in which antiretroviral drugs and formula feeding cannot be safely delivered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-480
Number of pages2
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7182
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 1999
Externally publishedYes

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