HIV-positive mothers are now less likely to transmit the virus to their offspring thanks to the work of VCU professor Frank Gupton and his team of researchers from across the country.
Gupton collaborated with his counterparts at the University of Washington, Florida State and MIT to improve the effectiveness of nevirapine — an antiretroviral drug currently on the market to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child.
According to the Aids Virus Education and Research Trust, mother-to-child transmission of HIV is responsible for 90 percent of cases of infected children.
Through effective prevention measures, however, mother-to-child transmission rates can be reduced from 15-45 percent to less than five percent.
While nevirapine has become readily available in the U.S., its current production model prevents easy distribution throughout third-world countries where the AIDS epidemic continues to fester at higher rates than anywhere else in the world.
Even with applied discounts, nevirapine retails in the U.S. at approximately $700 for a bottle of 60 tablets, a stark contrast to a generic alternative developed in 2012, which costs only $17-30 for the same amount of medication.
“The idea is not so much to reduce the cost, but to increase the availability of this drug to emerging economies, such as South Africa,” Gupton said.
The research was funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gupton added that he hopes the research findings will make the necessary medications more affordable, and allow organizations such as the Gates and Clinton foundations to obtain more volume of the drug per purchase.
In Virginia, the use of medications to prevent mother-to-child transmission has remained helpful in preventing new cases of HIV.
The Virginia Department of Health reported in September that from 2008 to 2012, the number of new cases of HIV has remained stable, ranging from 839 to 1,037 new cases per year.
The World Health Organization endorses the use of nevirapine combined with other medications to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
In some target countries, the organization has provided prevention coverage for 90 percent of all pregnant women infected with HIV.