Uganda to offer free HIV drugs to pregnant women to prevent vertical HIV transmission

Uganda will offer free AIDS drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV through a voluntary counselling and testing program expected to be operating throughout the country by the end of 2002, Reuters reports.

A “limited” program providing 700 mothers in Kampala with free treatment began in April 2000, and that number is expected to double a year from now. Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund health and nutrition program in Uganda, said, “The expansion will require a lot of logistics – testing, counselling and infrastructure. But by the end of next year, we should be able to provide the service all over the country.” Johns Hopkins University researcher Laura Guay added, “Currently we are already working out of five sites which will quickly expand to 11 sites over the next year.” Last July, Guay and Ugandan scientists announced that nevirapine had been clinically proven to decrease the risk of vertical HIV transmission by up to 50%.

The full nevirapine regimen, which is a single dose to the woman in labour and a single dose to the newborn within 72 hours of delivery, costs less than $4, compared to $800 for similar preventive therapy with ZDV. Uhaa said, “Currently we are administering ZDV to mothers in all but one of our sites. But the plan is to move towards the cheaper and easier-to-administer nevirapine at all our sites.” As the result of government efforts, the HIV infection rate among pregnant women is 20%, down from 33% in 1991 (Busharizi, Reuters, 24/05).

Source: Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reports

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