Using a simulation model, Andrea Ciaranello and colleagues find that the latest WHO PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV) guidelines plus better access to PMTCT programs, better retention of women in care, and better adherence to drugs are needed to eliminate pediatric HIV in Zimbabwe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the “virtual elimination” of pediatric HIV: a mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) risk of less than 5%. We investigated uptake of prevention of MTCT (PMTCT) services, infant feeding recommendations, and specific drug regimens necessary to achieve this goal in Zimbabwe.
Methods and Findings
We used a computer model to simulate a cohort of HIV-infected, pregnant/breastfeeding women (mean age, 24 y; mean CD4, 451/µl; breastfeeding duration, 12 mo). Three PMTCT regimens were evaluated: (1) single-dose nevirapine (sdNVP), (2) WHO 2010 guidelines' “Option A” (zidovudine in pregnancy, infant nevirapine throughout breastfeeding for women without advanced disease, lifelong combination antiretroviral therapy for women with advanced disease), and (3) WHO “Option B” (pregnancy/breastfeeding-limited combination antiretroviral drug regimens without advanced disease; lifelong antiretroviral therapy with advanced disease). We examined four levels of PMTCT uptake (proportion of pregnant women accessing and adhering to PMTCT services): reported rates in 2008 and 2009 (36% and 56%, respectively) and target goals in 2008 and 2009 (80% and 95%, respectively). The primary model outcome was MTCT risk at weaning.
The 2008 sdNVP-based National PMTCT Program led to a projected 12-mo MTCT risk of 20.3%. Improved uptake in 2009 reduced projected risk to 18.0%. If sdNVP were replaced by more effective regimens, with 2009 (56%) uptake, estimated MTCT risk would be 14.4% (Option A) or 13.4% (Option B). Even with 95% uptake of Option A or B, projected transmission risks (6.1%–7.7%) would exceed the WHO goal of less than 5%. Only if the lowest published transmission risks were used for each drug regimen, or breastfeeding duration were shortened, would MTCT risks at 95% uptake fall below 5%.
Implementation of the WHO PMTCT guidelines must be accompanied by efforts to improve access to PMTCT services, retain women in care, and support medication adherence throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, to approach the “virtual elimination” of pediatric HIV in Zimbabwe.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
A woman who is infected with HIV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or breastfeeding—mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT). Without treatment, up to 30% of babies born to HIV-infected women will become infected with HIV during pregnancy or at delivery, and a further 5%–20% will become infected through breastfeeding. In 2009, around 400,000 children under 15 years of age became infected with HIV, mainly through MTCT—90% of these MTCT infections occurred in Africa.
In addition to preventing HIV infection among prospective parents and avoiding unwanted pregnancies among HIV-positive women, effective prevention of MTCT (PMTCT) requires preventing the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their infants during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and breastfeeding.
In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) published new guidelines for PMTCT based on combination antiretroviral therapy for women with advanced HIV disease, and two options for countries to select for women with less advanced disease. Option A includes zidovudine (ZDV) during pregnancy and single-dose nevirapine (sdNVP) at delivery, followed by daily nevirapine syrup for infants throughout the duration of breastfeeding; Option B includes maternal triple-drug ARV regimens throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, WHO estimates that only 53% of pregnant women worldwide received any antiretroviral medicines for PMTCT in 2009.
Why Was This Study Done?
As in many sub-Saharan African countries where prolonged breastfeeding is common, and necessary to improve child health, Zimbabwe is implementing the 2010 WHO guidelines with Option A. However, because of the challenges of enrolling and retaining women in PMTCT programs, the effectiveness of this strategy is unknown. Therefore in this study, the researchers used a model to calculate the level of PMTCT uptake in Zimbabwe, the PMTCT drug regimens, and the duration of breastfeeding that would be necessary to reach the WHO goal of an MTCT risk below 5%.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a validated computer simulation model developed for analyzing the cost-effectiveness of preventing AIDS complications to measure risk of infant HIV transmission at the time of weaning, the HIV infection risk at 4–6 weeks of age, infant survival at two years of age, and 2-year HIV-free survival. The researchers used four scenarios of PMTCT uptake and linked the models to two populations of pregnant and breastfeeding women (mean age, 24 years) in Zimbabwe, and then analyzed the combinations of the factors necessary to reach MTCT risks less than 5%.
At baseline, the researchers found that the 2008 National PMTCT Program in Zimbabwe led to a projected 12-month MTCT risk of 20.3%. The projected risk in 2009 was 18.0% because of improved uptake. The estimated MTCT risk with Option A at 56% uptake (2009 levels) was 14.4% and with Option B was 13.4%. However, even with greatly increased uptake, such as 95% levels, the researchers found that projected transmission risks would exceed the WHO goal of less than 5% MTCT, and that the MTCT risk would fall below 5% at the 95% uptake level only if the lowest transmission risks were used for each drug regimen, or if breastfeeding duration were shortened.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the planned implementation of the 2010 WHO PMTCT guidelines with Option A in Zimbabwe could substantially reduce infant HIV infection risk compared to the 2009 national program with sdNVP. Furthermore, in order to reach a MTCT risk of less than 5%, a national program based on either Option A or Option B will also need to include strategies to improve access to PMTCT services (to almost 100% uptake), retain women in care, and support medication adherence throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. These findings from a resource-limited country with high HIV prevalence and prolonged breastfeeding may be useful for other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001156.
Avert gives some more information on MTCT and PMTCT.
The United Nations Children's Fund has factsheets on national PMTCT responses in the most affected countries.
WHO's strategic vision for PMTCT for 2010–2015 is also available.