Considering this picture of the PMTCT and paediatric HIV infection in resource-limited countries and considering the public health approach shown by the WHO in the scaling up of the treatment for adults in this kind of settings, we were therefore surprised to read from the 2006 WHO's guidelines for PMTCT in resource-limited settings that similar criteria were set for starting three-drug cART for pregnant women, adults and adolescents, independently of their pregnant status . By this approach also, the majority of HIV-pregnant women who have access to PMTCT services in those countries (only 11% of those needing) will not receive three-drug cART during pregnancy for PMTCT that is considered standard in industrialized countries . Considering that nearly all these HIV-pregnant women are naive for cART, in this way the effectiveness of PMTCT will be dramatically reduced in these countries where the efficiency of the prevention must be maximal for giving a hope for an AIDS-free new generation. Why is the preventive value of three-drug cART in the antepartum, which we consider to be pivotal in a public health approach to prevention and cure of HIV/AIDS in industrialized countries not being taken sufficiently into consideration for resource-limited counties by the WHO? The reasons for such a conservative approach in the WHO's document needs further discussion. The WHO affirms that mono-therapy and bi-therapy have also shown a high rate of efficacy in the PMTCT: this evidence is given only from some clinical trials, but generally the ‘real life’ is completely different in resource-limited countries [10,11]. A comparison of the best result available in literature concerning African trials on PMTCT of HIV using short-course antiretroviral regimen (DITRAME Plus AZT + 3TC + NVPsd mother group)  or HAART [13,23] shows a 4% difference in terms of HIV-MTCT rate (about 80 000 new infection per year avertable). The WHO also refers to the risk of toxicity of nevirapine (NVP)-based three-drug cART during pregnancy, but we would like to highlight that this regimen (as the other first-line antiretroviral drugs) is routinely used in HIV-pregnant women also in industrialized countries. However, the available evidence on NVP toxicity in pregnancy are controversial [14–16], but are convergent on the consideration that this risk can be prevented or detected by regular clinical visits supported by serum transaminases analysis. We consider the management of NVP toxicity feasible also in many contexts of resource-limited countries.
Strengthening the PMTCT is also convenient from a strictly economical point of view. For example, the average cost of a first-line three-drug cART per year per adult is around US$ 220 in resource-limited settings; this is less than the monthly cost for the cART per HIV-infected child. The economic cost–benefit value of strengthening the PMTCT is evident and unquestionable, as well as the social value for the present and future of resource-limited countries.
We believe that three-drug cART for HIV-infected pregnant women, regardless of individual CD4+ cell count, may have a significant public health impact in resource-limited countries by
As health operators in general, heavily involved in the ‘real-life’ fight against HIV/AIDS in resource-limited settings, we believe that the time has come for the best standard of care to be internationally recommended even in resource-limited countries and, wherever possible, to discuss alternative options in which conditions are not favourable. We would like to ask WHO to reconsider, at least for the next guidelines for resource-limited settings, the possibility of recommending the use of three-drug cART in antepartum for all HIV-pregnant women (starting from 25th week); and eventually, with the support of the data from ongoing specific trials, also during the breast-feeding period for lactating HIV mothers (in context in which there is no other practical options for infant feeding), regardless of their country of residence and CD4+ cell count, wherever the local situation allows. We are convinced that a more efficient standard of PMTCT will also be feasible in resource-limited countries, at least in the sites where the three-drug cART is available for adults – thanks to the support offered by international governmental and nongovernmental aid organizations. PMTCT is an essential part of a comprehensive approach that includes prevention and treatment together as pillars of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Scaling up and improving the effectiveness of the PMTCT is not only a humanitarian and ethical imperative challenge, but it is also the only way for giving a hope for socioeconomic development for the new generation of resource-limited countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
All the authors participated in the ideation and elaboration of the study. We would like to thank Prof. Francesco Castelli (University of Brescia, Department of Mother-Infant and Biomedical Technology) for his support and for sharing this experience.
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