Prevention of HIV Transmittance to Babies

Last year, it was cause for celebration. The cause of celebration was for the
results that several clinical trials of zidovudine cut the risk for mother to
child transmission of human immune deficiency virus (HIV) by two thirds.
Although, this year, it is the basis for new federal recommendations that all
pregnant women should receive HIV testing and counseling. But, these findings
have been cause of protests by several activist groups. Activists fear that
conservative legislators and policy makers will use the clinical data to justify
mandatory testing and treatment for pregnant women.

During the latter part of February, the United States Public Health Services
published guidelines for HIV pregnant women in the Federal Register. Which
coincidentally was published on the same day as the National Conference in
Washington, DC for "HIV infection in women: Setting a New Agenda." The
conference included activists, physicians and HIV positive women who used the
meeting as a forum to voice their concerns about how best to balance women\'s own
medical needs with those of their infants. Other concerns of activists that
were voiced were that they don\'t want laws, policies or medical care imposed on
women merely as "vectors" who may transmit HIV to their infants.
The new guidelines recommend that all pregnant women should receive HIV
counseling and testing. These guidelines are aimed at helping pregnant women
know their HIV status early so that medical care, including zidovudine (Retrovir,
known as AZT, Burroughs Welcome Co., Research Triangle Park, NC), can be made
available. The new guidelines also reiterate previous federal health advisories
that say counseling should precede HIV testing. Physicians and other health
professionals who counsel women should be well informed about the complex issues
that face HIV infected pregnant women, according to the guidelines. This
information should include about all of their reproductive options. Women
should also be advised that in order to help reduce prenatal HIV transmissions
HIV infected women in the United States should not breast feed their infants.

The guidelines further states that all HIV testing should be voluntary for women
and their infants. Also, all decisions about AZT use should be made by the HIV
infected pregnant woman in a non coercive atmosphere and based on a balance of
the benefits an potential risks of the regimen to herself and her child. The
guidelines also state that women who are infected or refuse testing must not be
denied medical care, reported to child protective agencies, or discriminated
against in any way.

The center for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA. reports that
as of December 31, 1994, there were 58,448 women with AIDS in the United States.
Nearly one fourth of the total were reported in 1994 alone. AIDS is now the
fourth leading cause of death in US women ages 25 to 44 and in 15 major United
States cities.

In 1993, the CDC estimated that 7,000 HIV infected women gave birth in this
country, in other words, about one in every 625 women who gave birth that year
was HIV positive. The rate of mother to child transmission rate ranged from 15%
to 30%, which is estimated that there were as many as 2,000 HIV infected infants
born in the United States in 1993. Much of the controversy centers on AIDS
Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) protocol 076. In the 2 year study, 239 of the 477
HIV infected women enrolled received AZT during pregnancy and delivery. Their
infants received the drug for six weeks. At 18 months, 8.3% of the infants in
the treatment group vs. 25.5 % of the controls were infected. "Evidence based
on every analysis that has been done of the outcomes to date shows that this is
a prevention breakthrough," said Wanda Jones, DrPH, acting associate director of
CDC\'s office of Women\'s Health.

Activists believe that the data is incomplete and should not be used as the
basis for federal guidelines. They wanted to know the effects AZT might have on
the estimated 75% of infants who are born to HIV positive mothers but don\'t
seroconvert, and whether a pregnant woman who takes AZT early in the course of
infection will still benefit from the drug later, when she is sicker. They also
wanted to know what the long term effects may be if women take AZT during
multiple pregnancies, and whether ACTG 076 showed a correlation between high
maternal viral load and the likelihood of transmission. A few small studies,
including one from New York State Health Department, are beginning to point in
that direction. Jones of the CDC conceded that