The past decade has seen significant progress globally in the field of medicine concerning HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and how to protect mother to child transmission of HIV. The use of several strategies and HIV medications before, during and after childbirth have reduced the rate of mother to child transmission of HIV, in many countries.
Children born to women with HIV receive an HIV medicine known as zidovudine within 6 to 12 hours of birth. This HIV medicine protects the new born baby from any infection that might have been passed down from the mother to the child while she carried the baby. This medicine is given to the baby for at least 4 to 6 weeks after the baby’s birth and once this course is completed, another medicine called sulfamethoxazole/ trimethoprim is administered that helps prevent a certain type of pneumonia. This pneumonia has higher probability of affecting people with HIV and once it’s been established through tests that the baby isn’t HIV positive, this medication is also stopped.
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Babies born to HIV positive mothers are tested after 14 – 21 days at first, and then at 1-2 months, and then again at 6 months to check that if the babies have been infected with HIV too. This test, called a virologic test, looks for presence of HIV in the blood. Generally, two tests are taken, to ensure if the baby is HIV negative or positive. The first test is taken when the baby is one month or older and the second test when the baby is more than four months old. In case, the tests show that the baby is HIV positive, then a combination of HIV medicines, called antiretroviral therapy or ART is administered. This medication helps HIV patients lead a longer and healthier life.
There are other precautions people should take to protect their children from HIV like not giving them pre- chewed food because many reports have concluded that when an HIV infected person chews food and feeds it to a baby, the baby has a high risk of getting infected with HIV too. Breastfeeding is also not recommended if the mother is HIV infected because this could allow the transmission of the virus to the baby. Instead, an alternative formula prescribed by the doctor is the way to go in this case. And studies have shown that children who haven’t been infected by HIV but have been exposed up to some extent, need specific routine care because of their unpredictable immune system and visiting the doctor regularly safeguards the child from any possible future risks, including death.