HIV and Pregnancy: A Death Sentence?

24 Jun

By now, I think everyone knows that HIV/AIDS is a major problem, especially in Africa. Poor medical care and lack of knowledge on the disease (even here in the U.S.) have caused fear, misconceptions, dread, and depression for those who contract it. For years, becoming pregnant after contracting HIV was a death sentence for the resulting child.

A few years ago, scientists discovered a “miracle” treatment for pregnant women with HIV–a way for her to deliver the baby without the child contracting HIV. Doctors and humanitarians alike cheered this wonderful treatment. Finally, a solution to the problem of mother-to-baby transmission.

I’m kicking myself at the moment for not being able to find the interview I heard on the radio, on NPR I believe, in which a doctor discussed this procedure. However, I did find a study done in Africa on the treatment.

The woman is given a shot of nevirapine, one drug of a three drug “cocktail” used to help the immune system in AIDS treatment, during labor. The child is then given a shot of it after birth. The majority of the time, this treatment is effective in preventing the transmission, and the child is spared from the terrible life of an HIV patient.

However, what other scientists have just discovered is that the use of nevirapine during labor is actually detrimental to the mother’s treatment later. There is a chance that the mother will become resistant to nevirapine, which renders useless the three drug “cocktail” used for HIV/AIDS treatment for her later. She will die sooner because of this. Her child will be without a mother.

In one test group of the study, 40% of the mothers had developed resistance to the drug 6 weeks after delivery. In that same group, 40% of the infants were resistant as well. Those infants will grow into adults who, if they contract HIV, will also be unable to use the common AIDS treatment. Of course, 40% may not seem like a big number; after all, it’s less than half of the women in that test group. However, another test group showed that if two doses of nevirapine are used, 75% of women in that test group developed resistance to the drug.

However, as this NPR interview shows, even resources such as these are not available for people who might want them. President Obama would like to increase funds to help with AIDS treatment, but the money isn’t there. People who desperately need help cannot get it. On top of that, many groups do not donate money to HIV/AIDS causes because they believe HIV is a “sinful” disease, nevermind the children who are affected.

Even if the services were available, some women now fear they will not be provided to them. In another NPR article, 3 HIV-positive Nambian women report that they were sterilized against their will when they went to a hospital for treatment.

So what is the answer for women in Africa? Many say don’t have sex, don’t get pregnant. That’s a bit difficult to do for many of them. In some countries, many children are a sign of a man’s power. Women do not have the right to not marry or say no to sex with their husband, even if he has HIV (and who’s to say he knows he does?). Rape of the “other side’s” women during war is common. I have even heard that some men in Zimbabwe believe sex with a virgin will cure him of HIV.

Abortion is a responsible answer for these women, if they could choose it. They would eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus to a child. They would eliminate the risk of resistance to a drug which could help extend their lives. However, abortion is illegal in many HIV/AIDS-plagued countries, often because of the countries’ state religion. A woman who becomes pregnant in these places risks the health of her child, her own health, or both when she is forced to deliver.

However, anti-choicers will tell you that the new technology allowing the child to be born healthy is a “beautiful” thing. There is nothing beautiful about women and children dying because a forced birth robbed them of treatment which could add years to their lives. What’s “pro-life” about that?

One Response to “HIV and Pregnancy: A Death Sentence?”

  1. denmadrid August 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you for this everyone-needs-to-know information that we cannot read in the regular media, since only big-pharma fantasies get distributed. This helps decide on votes about public programs and about donations to NGOs that help women.

    Birth control by women is a human right!

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