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close this bookHIV and Infant Feeding - Review of HIV Transmission Through Breastfeeding Jointly Issued by UNICEF, UNAIDS and WHO Guidelines - Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (UNAIDS, 1998, 26 p.)
close this folderMother-to-child transmission
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View the documentHIV infection in women
View the documentRates of mother-to-child transmission

HIV infection in women

Most children acquire the virus through transmission from an HIV-infected mother, therefore, the incidence of paediatric HIV reflects that of HIV infection in women of childbearing age. In areas of high seroprevalence, a significant number of children are at risk.

Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV focuses attention on women, but the use of the term MTCT is not to imply blame, whether or not a woman is aware of her own infection status. A woman can acquire HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner, by receiving contaminated blood, or through exposure to unsterile instruments or medical procedures. HIV is often introduced into the family through the woman's sexual partner, often the father of her child.

The prevalence of HIV varies considerably from region to region. Women and children in sub-Saharan Africa are disproportionately affected, with eight in every 10 HIV-infected women worldwide, and nine in every 10 newly infected children living in this region (MAP, 1998; UNAIDS/WHO, 1998). In West and Central Africa, HIV prevalence in pregnant women currently reaches 10-15% in some urban areas and 1-5% in others. Prevalences in East Africa are higher at 15-25% in urban areas and 5-10% in rural areas, while in Southern Africa antenatal seroprevalences of 20-30%, and in some places even as high as 40%, have been reported (MAP, 1998; UNAIDS/WHO, 1998). In the Caribbean, Central America and South America, HIV-1 seroprevalence rates currently range from 0.1% - 5.0%. Asia is experiencing a rapidly growing epidemic with seroprevalence rates in big cities of Cambodia, India and Thailand currently ranging from 1-5% (UNAIDS/WHO, 1998).