Where are the weak links in prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programmes?

Reconstructing the PMTCT cascade using cross-sectional household survey data: The PEARL Study.

Chi BH, Tih PM, Zanolini A, Stinson K, Ekouevi DK, Coetzee D, Welty TK, Bweupe M, Shaffer N, Dabis F, Stringer EM, Stringer JS. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Jun 11. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Given the ambitious targets to reduce pediatric AIDS worldwide, ongoing assessment of programs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) is critical. The concept of a "PMTCT cascade" has been used widely to identify bottlenecks in program implementation; however, most efforts to reconstruct the cascade have relied on facility-based approaches that may limit external validity.

Methods: We analyzed data from the PEARL household survey, which measured PMTCT effectiveness in 26 communities across Zambia, South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire, and Cameroon. We recruited women who reported a delivery in the past two years. Among mothers confirmed to be HIV-infected at the time of survey, we reconstructed the PMTCT cascade with self-reported participant information. We also analyzed data about the child's vital status; for those still alive, HIV testing was performed via DNA PCR.

Results: Of the 976 eligible women, only 355 (36%) completed every step of the PMTCT cascade. Among the 621 mother-child pairs who did not, 22 (4%) reported never seeking antenatal care, 103 (17%) were not tested for HIV during pregnancy, 395 (64%) reported testing but never received their HIV-positive result, 48 (8%) did not receive maternal antiretroviral prophylaxis, and 53 (9%) did not receive infant antiretroviral prophylaxis. The lowest prevalence of infant HIV infection or death was observed in those completing the cascade (10%, 95%CI: 7%-12%).

Conclusions: Future efforts to measure population PMTCT impact should incorporate dimensions explored in the PEARL Study - including HIV testing of HIV-exposed children in household surveys - to better understand program effectiveness.

Abstract access  [1]

Editor’s notes: Programmes to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child can virtually eliminate transmission when conducted with adequate coverage and quality. This population-based study recruited women living with HIV who had given birth in the past 24 months from four sub-Saharan African countries including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa and Zambia. The 976 mothers allowed their children to be tested for HIV, and reported on the level of maternal health services they received for that child, the “prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission cascade”. While 98% of mothers had at least one contact with antenatal care services, only 36% eventually received services considered to be adequate for preventing transmission of HIV to their children. This study is notable for highlighting exactly where coverage gaps exist along the treatment pathway. In particular, 53% of mothers did not receive the result of an HIV test, and so would not have received follow-up services to prevent transmission. As a population-based study, these data provide a fuller picture of service coverage which cannot be captured by traditional monitoring and evaluations systems. These results can inform where systems strengthening must occur along the “prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission cascade”, so that transmission risk is minimized for all children born to women living with HIV.

Africa [10]
Cameroon [11], Côte d'Ivoire [12], South Africa [13], Zambia [14]
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