HIV- positive women and pregnancy
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a blood-borne virus transmitted through sexual intercourse, intravenous drug use and from mother to child through child birth or breastfeeding. The vast majority of people infected with the virus live in low and middle income countries. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Sub-Saharan Africa is the most severely affected region (Approx. 1 in 25 adults is living with HIV).
Women and girls living with HIV face additional challenges when it comes to sexual and reproductive health. HIV potentially affects all dimensions of women’s sexual and reproductive health from contraception to pregnancy and childbirth. As a result of the stigma and discrimination attached to HIV, health care providers must be able to protect the reproductive rights of women living with HIV through additional care and counselling.
HIV positive women have a fundamental right to make uncoerced choices about their reproductive health, pregnancy and care. HIV-positive women, due to the advances in antiretroviral therapy (ARV) and improvements in HIV care, can look forward to bearing and raising children to adulthood however, they do face significant challenges in preventing HIV transmission to their child.
In the absence of intervention in childbirth, the risk of mother-child transmission of HIV is 25-30% in non-breastfeeding individuals and up to 45% in breast feeding individuals. This risk however, can be reduced to as low as 2% if the mother follows certain protocols, including anti-HIV medication throughout pregnancy and childbirth. These protocols however, must also be respectful of the women’s right to make informed consent about her own health, and the health of her child.
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