This systematic review focuses on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for treating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in ART-eligible pregnant women. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is the primary means by which children worldwide acquire HIV infection. MTCT occurs during three major timepoints during pregnancy and the postpartum period: in utero, intrapartum, and during breastfeeding. Strategies to reduce MTCT focus on these periods of exposure and include maternal and infant use of ART, caesarean section before onset of labour or rupture of membranes, and complete avoidance of breastfeeding. Where these combined interventions are available, the risk of MTCT is as low as 1-2%. Thus, ART used among mothers who require treatment of HIV for their own health also plays a significant role in decreasing MTCT.
This review is one in a series of systematic reviews performed in preparation for the revision of the 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines regarding "Antiretroviral Drugs for Treating Pregnant Women and Preventing HIV Infection in Infants" and "Antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV Infections in Adults and Adolescents." The findings from these reviews were discussed with experts, key stakeholders, and country representatives at the 2009 WHO guideline review meeting. The resulting WHO 2009 "rapid advice" preliminary guidance on adult and adolescent ART now recommends lifelong treatment for all adults with HIV infection and CD4 counts <350 cells/mm3. These recommendations also apply to pregnant women who are HIV-infected and they place a high value on early ART to benefit the mother's own health (WHO 2009). The "rapid advice" preliminary guidance also aims to minimize side effects for mothers and their infants (WHO 2009).