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Option B+ Scores an A at the XIX International AIDS Conference

16 August 2012

At the recent XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., there was growing global momentum around optimal approaches to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child and to keep HIV-positive mothers alive and healthy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently encouraged countries to consider accelerating the adoption of one of two options for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) that both include added benefits for and emphasis on the health of mothers. Option B includes the use of triple-drug therapy for the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and Option B+ continues that drug regimen for the mother’s lifetime.

The WHO’s three options – Options A, B, and B+ – all afford similar protection against mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but Option B+ has the greatest potential for health benefits for infected women, and can confer protection against transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner.

There is growing consensus that Option B+ represents an evolving best standard for protecting both mother and child from the effects of HIV. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and mothers2mothers (m2m) support the development and implementation of revised WHO technical and operational guidelines, and will assist the implementation of whichever option is chosen by national governments.

Adoption of Option B+ will require careful study of new and existing operational issues. EGPAF is prepared to use its considerable country presence, technical capacity, and research ability to investigate the operational issues that need to be addressed and understood for optimal implementation of this regimen. Issues that should be studied through operations research include acceptability, adherence, drug resistance, retention, safety, and funding. EGPAF has been an instrumental partner in assisting the WHO and individual countries to implement past guidelines, and will continue to assist as new guidelines are updated.

m2mwill support country efforts to implement Option B+ by using its simple and effective Mentor Mother model to promote enrollment and retention in care.Because m2m’s Mentor Mothers provide additional human resources – educating and supporting mothers as they learn to understand, accept, and adhere to lifelong treatment regimens – they can further ease the pressure this new protocol might cause already strained health systems. m2m is prepared to use its trusted presence in communities to ensure that all women, especially those not currently accessing care, are able to benefit from Option B+.

As organizations working to implement the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive, we are committed to overcoming any obstacle that prevents us from reaching our goal of ending HIV/AIDS in children and mothers.

There are still large numbers of HIV-positive, pregnant women who cannot access any effective PMTCT services, and so we must ensure that countries are able to accelerate efforts toward universal coverage.

We must also adequately address implementation barriers, such as weak health systems – especially in more rural settings – lack of human resources for health, and a need for significant education and community-based support to promote adherence to lifetime therapy and long-term retention in the health system.

We look forward to supporting countries to overcome these issues as they work toward achieving an AIDS-free generation.

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