This is a problem. Every third infant in South Africa is born to an HIV positive woman. Even without the help of doctors, most of those infants are born HIV negative. With the advent of prevention of mother to child transmission programs (PMTCT), that HIV-negative number approaches ninety-nine percent. Nature is wonderful and medicine helps. Properly treated, pregnant women are very unlikely to pass HIV on to their children.
But to answer one question is often to confront a dozen more. This is one of those paradoxes. These infants get sicker more frequently with more severe disease than other newborns. They die at a much higher rate than their contemporaries. And no one knows why. There are theories, and there has been research, but no one has figured it out yet.
These newborns are called HIV-exposed, uninfected (HEU) infants. And there are a lot of them: about one in five infants born in Africa today are exposed to HIV in utero. One observer commented that any health issues displayed by this group represents an enormous public health issue for the entire continent.
These infants are the subjects of my research in South Africa. As background, I had to read fairly thoroughly on their health problems, the theories behind those problems, as well as prominent researchers in the field. I will share a few more posts as my research year continues.