HIV Infection in Mothers and Children, Focus of Two New Studies in Africa

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is an infection acquired from body fluids such as blood, through blood transfusion or sexual intercourse. The disease is known to be caused by the HIV, a virus which, up to this day, has no established cure.

Most people in the United States living with HIV have learned to accept their chronic condition and have successfully managed their disease. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, HIV infection, especially in mothers and children still is a big problem. Unlike in the US where vertical transmission from mother to child is sparse in occurrence, new cases of HIV infection in children and maternal deaths due to HIV is still rampant in this African region. Additionally, compared to other parts of the world, the number of pregnant mothers of Eastern and Southern Africa who are infected with HIV is significantly greater.

According to UNICEF, 50 percent of children in the world known to have HIV are found in the Eastern and Southern Africa, and more than 90 percent of these children were infected through transmission of mother to child during pregnancy.

In light of this current situation, Janet Turan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at the UAB School of Public Health, together with a team of experts in biomedical science research, has recently been granted more than $600,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for the new study, A Home-Based Couples Intervention to Enhance PMTCT and Family Health in Kenya. The study is set to be completed in three years’ time. This is a continuation of her ongoing work which centers on proper education and counseling to reduce the stigma of HIV infection among pregnant women in Kenya. Turan would be the lead author of the study which would be conducted in collaboration with investigators at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco.

The objective of the research is to be able to develop intervention and information dissemination among couples. The study would be conducted through home visits and includes secure HIV testing, with counseling for family health during the time that the mother is pregnant. A home-based strategy is proposed since men rarely accompany women during their maternal visits. Home visits ensure that information can reach the couple in a convenient way and in a secure environment.

Turan pointed out that the stigma among infected women remains a barrier to Antiretroviral therapy, which has the potential to reduce vertical transmission to almost as low as 1%. Therapy can only be initiated when pregnant women consents to testing and disclosure. This way, HIV-infection related maternal deaths and infant morbidity may be decreased.

Another research co-authored by Dr. Turan, in collaboration with KEMRI and the University of Colorado, Denver, has been granted an R01 grant in the amount of $1,721,830, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development. The study, which is set to run in the next five years, also zones in on the elimination of HIV infection in the pediatric population, together with saving maternal lives. It also aims to improve antiretroviral therapy and simplify its implementation.

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