Here in THE LAND of milk and honey, the rate of HIV transmission from moms to babes has dropped to under 2 percent. Not so in resource-strapped settings such as South Africa, where 30 percent of HIVers’ newborns inherit the virus. Now, a WHO-backed bunch of prevention experts is floating a quick fix: “universal” short-course nevirapine (Viramune) for all preggers—even those who have not been tested.
This cut-to-the-chase use of antiretrovirals bypasses the standard rigamarole of counseling, testing and an HIV diagnosis. Already being studied among mothers-to-be in Botswana and Zambia, the measure is likely to spark controversy before it spreads across the developing world.
While most experts agree that it’s a no-brainer—low risk, high benefits, plus it’s free from Boehringer Ingelheim—opponents raise two objections. First, a single dose can, in theory, cause Mom to develop non-nuke resistance. Second, this magic bullet could sabotage the campaign for universal testing. So for now, bigwigs like Arthur Ammann, MD, head of Global Health Strategies for HIV Prevention, view it as “a temporary solution while we work toward implementing the proper thing to do.”