Can this foil sachet save a baby’s life?

By Kate Hassett

A new invention is ensuring new mothers - who don't have access to hospitals - do have access to antiretroviral medication to stop mother-to-baby HIV transmission.

According to the UN, mother-to-child HIV transmission in the developing world sees 260,000 new cases in children every year.

The transmission occurs when babies and mothers do not have access to the correct antiretroviral medication in order to stop transmission in its tracks. The risk lies in various factors relating to in-vitro transmission, transmission during labour or even breastfeeding and can see the likelihood of the mother transferring the disease to the child in about 45% of cases.

However, a new invention could change these statistics for the better.

A set of researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have invented a means by which mothers can have access to the correct medication to ensure their babies have the greatest chance at survival.

The sachet, that looks like a take-away sauce packet you get at fast-food restaurants, actually contains the exact dose of antiretroviral medication needed at birth. The mess-free, easily accessible and administered packet, allows the mother to give the medication to the baby without spilling or spoiling it.

The pouch has the added benefit of protected the medication from oxidisation. Being in an airtight sachet means that the medication can be preserved for up to a year without losing effectiveness.

Now a programme between the hospital, the Ecuadorian government, the VIHDA foundation in Guayaquil and Duke University, has seen over 1000 babies been born without infection.

The pouch is now being trialled in African countries such as Zambia and Tanzania and will role out to others including Uganda. The sachets will hopefully aid in the treatment of children born at home – which makes up a large percentage of births.

While most mothers know they are HIV positive and receive ante-natal care – which allows them to receive the sachet, there are still a large percentage of women who have no idea they are positive and transferring the virus to their unborn children.

Dr Robert Malkin, from Duke University who led the research team behind the pouch attested to this.

“In Yemen there are a huge number of others who never make an ante-natal visit. And there is no HIV testing, so they don’t know if they are HIV positive or not. There is no point in the pouch being used there.”

The hopes are that these women can have access to more ante-natal care which would diagnose the virus in those who were HIV positive and therefore cease mother-to-baby transmission.




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