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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Raises New Concerns about Children Born to HIV-Infected Mothers

The last 15 years has seen dramatic progress globally in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV—from a rate of more than 25 percent, down to less than 5 percent. But as one public health crisis has been addressed, another has emerged, according to a new study by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers: Children exposed to HIV, but not infected, have a 70 percent increased risk of dying, often within the first two years of life.

The study in the journal AIDS raises concerns that a growing population of children born to HIV-infected mothers but who escaped infection are vulnerable to illness and death, for reasons not yet understood. The higher risk of death did not appear to change after 2002, when global implementation of antiretroviral therapy for all HIV-positive pregnant women became policy, the study found.

The research team conducted the first-ever meta-analysis of more than 20 studies that have been done over the last 15 years on mortality among HIV-exposed children, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly all of the studies showed a higher risk of mortality among young children born to HIV-infected mothers than among their non-exposed counterparts.

“We had thought that the children who were spared transmission might have dodged the bullet—but it seems, instead, that some portion of them are more susceptible to illness and death,” said senior study author Dr. Donald Thea, professor of global health at BUSPH. “We don’t really know why—and, given the serious health outcomes, we need to find out. The more success we have in preventing mother-to-child transmission, the larger this group of children will become. This could easily become one of the most prevalent medical-induced causes of death among children in the world.”

To read more about the study, go to: