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Friday, 16 July, 1999, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
Drug therapy 'can reduce Aids babies'

The government wants to reduce HIV transmission from mother to baby
Mothers-to-be given a combination of anti-HIV drugs do not appear to pass on the virus to their babies, according to a leading US doctor.

Dr Karen Beckerman, an obstetrician from the Bay Area Perinatal Aids Center in San Francisco, says none of the 86 women she has treated has transmitted HIV to their babies.

Aids Special Report
She says she gives women up-to-date information about drugs available to treat HIV and promotes the use of combination therapy of at least three anti-HIV drugs throughout pregnancy.

In the UK, not many mothers-to-be use combination therapy.

The Aids Treatment Project says this is because AZT is currently the only approved drug for pregnant women in the UK.

"We are lagging behind the USA," said a spokeswoman.

Aids charity Avert says the problem is that, apart from AZT, most anti-HIV drugs have not been around for very long and scientists are still learning what effects most might have on unborn babies.

It adds that there are indications that some may have bad effects on pregnancy so women should discuss their medication with their doctor if they are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

And it recommends that, if the woman's health is relatively good, she should steer clear of drugs in the first 14 weeks when the baby is most at risk of developing defects.

Target group

Pregnant women are considered one of the key target groups in the government's Aids strategy.

On World Aids Day last year, it highlighted the fact that anonymous research in ante-natal clinics, particularly in London, showed many women were HIV positive without knowing it.

The government says it is important that pregnant women be offered HIV tests so they can take action to prevent the virus being passed to their babies.

Studies show that the number of babies born with HIV fell by two thirds if women took AZT during pregnancy and did not breastfeed.

Dr Beckerman believes this number can be further reduced if combination therapy is used.


Dr Beckerman uses combination therapy
She has also been reluctant to use Caesarian sections for births, although a large number of British women with HIV are forced to have their babies this way.

The Aids Treatment Project says this is because doctors believe they reduce the chance of transmitting HIV when the baby passes down the birth canal.

But Dr Beckerman said: "We found that if women are on therapy, they rarely transmit and since C-sections can have added complications for HIV positive women, we were guided by that philosophy."

The complications are associated with the fact that Caesarians are a major operation involving significant blood loss.

Nevertheless, Dr Beckerman is reviewing her position because she says women should be allowed the right to opt for Caesarians if they want them.

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02 Jul 99 | Aids
Aids in the UK
08 Jul 99 | Aids
Aids worldwide
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