Doctors at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland discovered that administering doses of two drugs, nevirapine and AZT, to babies of HIV-positive mothers after birth was 36% effective in blocking transmission of the virus.
“In this study, we've shown that exposure after birth to prophylaxis with nevirapine and AZT can reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” said Dr Taha El Tahir Taha who headed the research team.
Treatment is usually given to women during pregnancy and to the infants after the birth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
But in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of AIDS cases occur, many women arrive at medical clinics or hospitals just a few hours before they give birth and their HIV status may not be known.
“These factors limit the use of nevirapine before delivery,” Taha, who reported the findings in The Lancet medical journal, said.
“In this study, we've shown that exposure after birth to prophylaxis with nevirapine and AZT can reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV”
Dr Taha El Tahir Taha
“Another approach to prevent transmission of the disease is clearly necessary,” he added.
Nevirapine, which is made by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals and zidovudine, which is produced by drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline under the brand name AZT, have been shown to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV in breastfeeding women in Africa.
Taha said giving the drug combination is easy and offers a way of preventing transmission of the virus to babies of women who missed the opportunity to be tested and counselled before or during pregnancy.
“With these new, promising results, we believe that alternative drugs may also be used as safety data become available,” said Taha.
"These regimens could also be extended to prevent transmission of HIV through breast milk,” he added.