January 30, 2000
The identification of a simple, affordable drug regimen that is highly effective in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been named the ninth greatest health advance of 1999 by CNN. The drug, nevirapine, was identified through a collaborative effort between researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
"The implications of this for developing countries, where 95 percent of the AIDS epidemic is occurring, are profound," says Brooks Jackson, M.D., the lead researcher of the study.
A single oral dose of the antiviral drug nevirapine given to a HIV-infected woman during labor and another to her baby within three days of birth cuts the transmission of HIV in half. While an AZT regimen is used to prevent perinatal HIV transmission in the United States, it is too expensive and impractical for widespread use in developing countries. Whereas nevirapine costs $3 to $4 per patient, the long-course AZT regimen, now the standard of care for HIV-infected pregnant women in the United States, costs $800. Nevirapine also appears to have fewer side effects than AZT and lasts longer in the body.
According to the United Nations, approximately 1,800 HIV-infected babies are born every day in developing countries. If nevirapine treatment is implemented widely in developing countries, researchers estimate the intervention could prevent between 300,000 to 400,000 newborns per year from being infected at birth.