September 4, 1997
Rate of World Infant AIDS Increases
WASHINGTON (AP) -- About 500 babies a year contract the AIDS virus from HIV-infected mothers during pregnancy and delivery, but in developing countries the rate is 1,000 a day, according to health officials.
Experts gathered Wednesday at an international conference said the AIDS epidemic is raging among newborns from HIV-infected mothers in Asia and Africa because poor nations cannot afford drug therapy that has been successful in reducing HIV infection among American babies.
Dr. Helen D. Gayle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 300,000 babies are born with HIV each year in developing nations. She said the problem may get worse because the rate of HIV infection is increasing among women.
``In Africa, over half of new HIV infections occur among women,'' said Gayle. ``And in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.''
An estimated 22.6 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus and about 830,000 are children, most of whom were infected by their mothers. About 1.4 million children have died of the disease.
Without treatment, more than 25 percent of HIV-positive mothers will pass the disease to their newborn. With anti-viral drug treatment, the rate drops to about 8 percent.
Developed in the United States, the prenatal HIV treatment calls for a pregnant woman to take the anti-viral drug AZT, or zidovudine, starting at the 14th week of pregnancy. During labor, the drug is given intravenously. After birth, the baby receives the drug for the first six weeks of life.
But Gayle said this therapy costs about $1,000 per patient, far more than many developing nations can afford.