Newspaper article triggers serious alarm
-- Health Ministry
Guyana Chronicle
April 1, 2002

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THE Health Ministry has dubbed as most "irresponsible", an article in the Kaieteur News newspaper of March 25 headed `AIDS Drugs could leave Guyana worse off'.

A release from the ministry said the contents of the article are not only irresponsible, but have caused serious alarm among a number of pregnant mothers, enrolled at clinics with the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV programme (PMTCT).

The article claims that the use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission leads to "sterile babies" and that women in South Africa are refusing to use the drug due to this occurrence.

But the ministry said, "It would be very enlightening to know what is meant by `sterile babies'. If we understood sterile babies to mean that these babies are unable to reproduce, then this is a spurious claim."

The Health Ministry said that studies on prevention of Mother-to-Child first started in 1994, a mere eight years ago, so it is ludicrous for claims to be made about sterility.

Babies born to mothers who have received such drugs have not yet attained reproductive age, it noted.

Research done in several countries, including in Africa, has shown that the administration of antiretroviral drugs such as Nevirapine to mothers during labour, and to infants after delivery significantly reduces the risk of Mother-to-Child-Transmission of HIV.

According to the ministry, South Africa recently evaluated its pilot PMTCT Programme and 6,343 mothers and 1,932 babies received Nevirapine.

No severe adverse side effects were found in either mothers or babies taking SINGLE DOSE regimen Nevirapine as part of a PMTCT, the ministry said.

This evaluation has been found on the Internet at under Interim findings on the National PMTCT Pilot sites; Lessons and Recommendations, the ministry said.

It explained that Guyana, because of the high HIV infection rate, and the estimated high infection rate among women of child-bearing age, has started to use Nevirapine, administered as a single dose to the mother and baby, to prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission.

This drug was donated in July 2001 by the manufacturing company Boehringer Ingelheim, through its local distributor PQS.

Information on the PMTCT Programme can be obtained at the National AIDS Programme Secretariat; the Office of the Director of Communicable Diseases of the Ministry of Health or the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.

The ministry stated that the article has created much anxiety for women who are involved in the PMTCT Pilot Programme.

"We would like to reassure all women who are part of this programme and those desirous of enrolling in this initiative, that based on the specific evidence available, Nevirapine is safe for use in PMTCT and is very effective in preventing transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her baby when used properly", it stated.