Mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in sub-Saharan Africa: Past, present and future challenges

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


HIV prevalence continues to be high among women of reproductive age in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007 the HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics was > 20% in the southern African counties of Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa and Lesotho. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV can occur in-utero, intrapartum or postnatally. Without any preventive measure the overall rate of the MTCT of HIV in breastfeeding women could be 25-45%. Prior to the discovery of successful antiretroviral interventions to prevent the MTCT of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa (before 1999), innovative research determined the magnitude of the problem, the impact of the HIV epidemic on mothers and children, and the main risk factors associated with MTCT. Non-antiretroviral interventions conducted before 1999 such as washing the birth canal with antiseptics and antenatal supplementation with vitamin A did not reduce the MTCT of HIV. However, during the period 1999 to present, major successes were made in the prevention of the MTCT of HIV. The use of single-dose nevirapine prophylaxis to the mother and infant reduced the MTCT of HIV to ~ 12%. Subsequently, longer prophylaxis and combined antiretroviral regimens were shown to be highly effective and very low HIV transmission rates comparable to those in developed countries were reported in some clinical trial settings in sub-Saharan Africa. The future is promising but challenges remain. The current successful intervention modalities are entirely dependent on antiretrovirals and breastfeeding continues to be vital for the survival of the child in the African setting. Reviewing past and present achievements assists in focusing future research and development of prevention programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)917-921
Number of pages5
JournalLife Sciences
Issue number21-22
StatePublished - May 23 2011


  • Breastfeeding
  • Mother-to-child transmission of HIV
  • Nevirapine
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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