Trying to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV

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Harvard AIDS Institute researchers seek new methods

Harvard AIDS Institute researchers in Botswana are trying to help HIV-infected mothers and their infants. In the rural area of Molepolole, where AIDS Institute researcher Shahin Lockman lives and works, about two thirds of pregnant women consent to HIV testing. Lockman says that a little more than half of HIV-infected women choose to participate in her study, and most prefer to breastfeed. Formula-feeding is seen as an indication of HIV status, and Lockman and her colleagues have found that women may confront stigma if they do not breastfeed their infants. However, another study has found that breastfeeding HIV-infected mothers have lower chances of survival than those who formula-feed. Lockman is trying to determine whether the metabolic needs of breastfeeding contribute to HIV or whether malnourishment is the key factor. The ultimate goals are to help prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child and to improve the health of both. “Our staff counsels each woman,” Lockman says, “explaining the study and other options available to them such as the National Program — which provides [anti-HIV medication] ZDV and free formula — to women who decide not to participate in our study.”