South Africa’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme has achieved remarkable successes in recent years. It has improved the health and life expectancy for pregnant women living with HIV, and it has reduced the risk of transmission of the virus to their offspring.
HIV could be transmitted during pregnancy, at the time of delivery and through breastfeeding. The most critical intervention to prevent transmission is to ensure that the mother has undetectable HIV viral load levels in her bloodstream. This is done by providing her with effective anti-retroviral treatment (ART).
Access to ART for pregnant women was first introduced in 2004 and has evolved over the years. In 2015, antenatal services for pregnant women were further improved by providing access to lifelong ART, irrespective of CD4 count or clinical disease severity.
As a result, South Africa’s programme is a global leader with more than 95% of women being tested for HIV during antenatal care. More than 90% of HIV-positive women are now being initiated on ART, a huge improvement from only 57% accessing ART in 2007. Mother-to-child transmission rates have dropped dramatically. Without any intervention, the HIV-infection rate was around 40%. With these interventions the HIV-infection rate at birth is currently around 1%.