Mothers, Midwives, and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Jeanne Raisler CNM, DrPH,

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    • Jeanne Raisler, CNM, DrPH, is an assistant professor in the Nurse-Midwifery Program at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, a midwife at the perinatal infectious diseases clinic at the Detroit Medical Center, and a nurse-consultant with the Global HIV/AIDS of HRSA.

  • Jonathan Cohn MS, MD

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    • Jonathan Cohn, MS, MD, is a clinical associate professor of Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University School of Medicine and a physician consultant to the Global HIV/AIDS Program of HRSA.

Jeanne Raisler, CNM, DrPH, University of Michigan School of Nursing, 400 North Ingalls, Room 3320, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0482. E-mail:


This article reviews clinical and program issues in the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Topics include prevention of infection, voluntary counseling and testing, prenatal care, labor and birth, postpartum, family planning, infant feeding, and the role of traditional birth attendants. Programs providing short-course antiretroviral therapy to prevent infant infection are contrasted with comprehensive programs offering antiretroviral therapy and medical care to mothers, children, and families. Feminization of the epidemic is related to gender inequalities that facilitate the spread of HIV and make pregnant women an especially vulnerable group. Nurses and midwives are the primary health care providers for most of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. They are the backbone of the new PMTCT programs and will be the largest group of health workers available to diagnose and treat opportunistic infections and dispense antiretroviral therapy. But they have received little training and support to provide AIDS care and treatment and are rarely consulted when plans are made about workforce issues and capacity development in the health sector. Clinical training, leadership skills, salary support, expansion of the nursing workforce, and development of expanded roles for nurses and midwives in AIDS care are needed to help them turn the tide of the epidemic.