An evaluation of challenges with the South African PMTCT HIV programme seen from the perspective of HIV-positive children admitted to the PICU

EE Elkhatiali, PM Jeena


Background. Mother-to-child transmissions (MTCT) accounts for 90% of the 370 000 new HIV-positive children, globally. Despite progress in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, children still acquire HIV infection.

Objective. To identify and describe the prevalence of maternal, infant and/or health system-related risk factors gleaned from the literature for HIV transmission in HIV-positive children admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH), Durban, South Africa.

Method. A retrospective electronic chart review identifying all HIV-positive children under 2 years admitted to the PICU at IALCH between January 2017 and December 2019 was undertaken. Individual patient records were analysed using a standardised template.

Results. Of the 80 mothers and children with HIV enrolled in the present study, 38.8% (n=31/80) of mothers were diagnosed prior to pregnancy, 42.5% (n=34/80) were diagnosed during pregnancy (unsure when exactly transmission occurred), and 18.8% (n=15/80) of mothers were diagnosed after delivery. The median (range) time of antiretroviral treatment (ART) was 225 (30 - 365) days for mothers. More than half of mothers (56.3%, n=45/80) whose babies became HIV-positive had poor adherence to antiretroviral drugs (HIV viral load >1 000 copies/mL). An HIV-positive diagnosis in the children of these mothers occurred throughout infancy and early childhood, especially in the first 6 months (87.5%, n=70/80). A  third of mothers practised mixed feeding. Health system deficiency, mainly via cancellation of tests without notifying healthcare workers, was typical in infants (33%; n=26/80) and mothers (68.8%, n=55/80). All  others (100%) were not counselled about the importance of PMTCT and 93.8% of mothers were not counselled about the importance of follow-up. Almost all HIV-positive infants (95%, n=76) presented with severe respiratory illness, mainly severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (62.5%, n=50/80) and pneumonia with hypoxic respiratory failure (32.5%, n=26/80). The overall mortality of the cohort was 22.5% (n=18/80), and most deaths were associated with cytomegalovirus (CMV), Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PJP) or both (61.1%, n=11/18).

Conclusion. This present study confirmed that a new diagnosis of HIV positivity occurs throughout pregnancy and early childhood in infants. Poor adherence to ART in mothers and their infants, poor counselling, failure to attend antenatal and postnatal care, mixed feeding, and challenged laboratory services were common modifiable factors that need addressing.


Authors' affiliations

EE Elkhatiali, Department of Paediatric and Child Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

PM Jeena, Department of Paediatric and Child Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Child Health 2022;16(1):17.

Article History

Date submitted: 2022-02-14
Date published: 2022-02-14

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