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Africa welcomes news of cheaper drug to prevent newborn HIV transmission

Hospitals in South Africa are heavily burdened by HIV- infected children

VIDEO
CNN's Cynde Strand reports from South Africa, where as many as one in five tested are infected with HIV
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 ALSO:
Newsday: New AIDS Medication May Reduce Transmission of Virus from Mother to Child


Affordable drug reduces mother-to-child HIV transmission, study says

 

From Correspondent Cynde Strand

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- The news that an affordable drug, nevirapine, can dramatically reduce mother- to-child transmission of HIV is being particularly welcomed in sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS threatens to cripple much of the continent.

In South Africa, for example, about a quarter of the pregnant women are HIV-positive. At a private clinic, the cost of a short course of the drug AZT, now the standard treatment to prevent the transmission of HIV to newborns, costs $120 -- a price most people can't afford.

And though state-run hospitals could provide the AZT treatment for about $60, the government says it, too, cannot afford the cost of AZT.

"There are very many competing priorities in South Africa," said Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa's health minister. "We are just in the transition period. Everything needs money."

By contrast, nevirapine costs just $4 a dose. Researchers from the United States and Uganda found that administering just two doses -- one during labor and another three days after birth -- is even more effective that the short course of AZT.

"It provides a much more feasible way to obtain the same kind of reductions in transmission as we get with four weeks (of AZT,)" said Dr. James McIntyre, director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Johannesburg's Baragwanath Hospital "It is obviously going to cost less, but it is also much less of a burden on the health service."

Indeed, the failure to treat HIV-positive pregnant women has meant that hospitals in South Africa have been heavily burdened by HIV-infected children.

"We are being overwhelmed in pediatric wards with the effects of HIV and AIDS," said McIntyre. "Almost a third of the admissions to most pediatric wards in large hospitals in this country are a result of AIDS."

Tshabalala-Msimang says the South African government will explore the possibility of providing nevirapine.

"I'm sure our researchers would be very keen to collaborate with the researchers in Uganda so that we can see whether the results are such that they would persuade us to review our positions," he says. "We are looking for a drug that is affordable."



SPECIAL SECTION:
Health - AIDS


RELATED STORIES:
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July 9, 1999
Ethics Matters -- Risky Business: Helping the HIV-Infected Have Babies
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Cash-strapped S. African government cuts AIDS drug programs
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FDA approves new drug to fight HIV
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Panel: HIV testing should be routine for pregnant women
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South African government urges nation to fight AIDS pandemic
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AIDS conference sounds alarm over rich-poor divide
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Study: AZT, Caesareans reduce HIV spread to infants
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RELATED SITES:
Boehringer Ingelheim Corp.
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative Home Page (IAVI)
HIV and AIDS
AZT and AIDS, The Relationship Between HIV and AIDS
Project Inform Perspective 21: AZT During Pregnancy
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