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Vitamin A supplements reduce mother-child HIV transfer

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An expectant woman takes supplements. FILE PHOTO | NMG Giving Vitamin A supplements to pregnant women during pregnancy and after delivery reduces mother-to-child HIV transmission, a study has shown. According to researchers, the supplements especially come in handy in remote areas where facilities and medication may not be readily available. Researchers from South African Medical Reseach Council said the Vitamin A intervention has largely been superseded by Antiretroviral therapy (ART) which is widely available and effective in preventing vertical transmission. Professor Charles Wiysonge, lead researcher, and director of the South African Cochrane Centre, at the South African Medical Research Council, said in some low and middle countries with high rate of infections, interventions may not be practical or affordable. “Simple, inexpensive, and effective interventions that could potentially be implemented even in the absence of prenatal HIV testing programmes would be valuable. Vitamin A, which plays a role in immune function, is one low-cost intervention that has been suggested in such settings,” says Prof Wiysonge. He said other studies in sub-Saharan Africa have shown low serum vitamin A levels in HIV-positive women to be associated with significantly increased rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and infant mortality. “Vitamin A was assumed to decrease mother-to-child transmission of HIV by acting through several maternal, foetal, child risk factors for transmission, or all three,” he said. The study was supported by World Health Organisation findings (WHO), which states that over 1,000 new cases of mother-to-child transmission occur worldwide every day, making this the main route of transmission of HIV infection in children. The WHO revealed that Vitamin A deficiency also affects about 19 million pregnant women, mostly from Africa and has been associated with an increase in the risk of transmission of HIV from mother to child. “During pregnancy, vitamin A is essential for maternal health and for the healthy development of the fetus. As vitamin A also plays an important role in immune function, it has been suggested that providing vitamin A supplements may reduce the risk of transmission,” states WHO.

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