Prem babies born to HIV-positive mothers on the increase in SA

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Deaths of premature babies born to HIV-positive mothers are on the increase in South Africa, reports the Cape Argus. According to University of Cape Town researcher at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Dr Nadia Chanzu-Ikumi, three-quarters of deaths due to complications arising from pre-term birth were preventable, but “only if we have better access to health care”.

“Even if a baby is born HIV-negative, having been exposed to the virus in the womb can have negative effects such as pre-term birth, low birth weight and a compromised immune system.”

She added that every year 15m babies worldwide were born premature. According to the World Health Organisation, around 1m of them die due to complications, with factors like poor nutrition, mental health problems, alcohol and smoking being contributing factors.

With her research, Chanzu-Ikumi said she was trying to understand what influence the HIV infection had on the immune system of the mother, and consequently how that affected the unborn child. “Researchers need to start thinking about the health of babies before they are born. There is a strong movement towards exploring all aspects of the first critical 1000 days of life, since this period has a profound impact on the child’s development. This research includes the first two years after birth, but most importantly it also explores the babies’ health during the nine months in the womb.”

Chanzu-Ikumi is quoted in the report as saying that early in her career, while working in Kenya, she came across the phenomenon of HIV-positive mothers having a higher risk of premature births. “Often, even if these women carried their babies to term, they were born underweight and with compromised immune systems.”

The report says she has recently published a video series called Motherhood, which explores how babies can be given the best start in life. “The idea behind the videos is to create awareness about how the health of babies in utero can be affected by the external environment and the health of the mother.”

According to HIV support organisation, Right to Care, significant advances have been made with regard to managing children living with HIV/Aids. Dr Julia Turner, a paediatric medical adviser at Right to Care, said that in more than 10 years, HIV transmissions in babies had been reduced from 30% to 2%.

Cape Argus report

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