A South African High Court has ordered the government to provide the anti-retroviral drug Nevirapine to HIV positive pregnant woman to prevent the transmission of the AIDS-causing virus to their unborn babies.
The decision could affect as many as 50,000 babies a year.
Judge Chris Botha has ordered the South African government to provide Nevirapine to all those HIV-positive pregnant women whom he described as medically suited for the treatment. The judge also ordered that the women be properly and adequately assessed and counseled at government medical facilities and that babies be treated immediately after birth.
Nevirapine has been shown to prevent the transmission of HIV if administered in a single dose to an HIV-positive mother once labor has commenced and followed by a single dose to the newborn baby.
South African health authorities had argued the country lacked resources to distribute the drug to all HIV positive women giving births in public hospitals.
Success of the treatment also requires that babies treated in this way thereafter receive either only breast milk or only formula. Success declines whenever a baby is fed a combination of both breast milk and formula after treatment. Judge Botha also ordered the government to provide mothers with formula for babies treated with Nevirapine.
Dr. Haroun Salojee, of the "Save our babies" campaign, says the court decision could mean that transmission of HIV to as many 50,000 babies a year will be prevented. Dr. Salojee, a pediatrician at the Johannesburg Hospital, says medical practitioners have been shackled by policy makers for too long and that they are now free to do what they are trained to do -save babies.
The case was filed by the Treatment Action Campaign, an activist group that work on behalf of HIV positive people. The group has hailed the decision, saying that tens of thousands can benefit immediately.
South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with as many as 20 percent of the adult population believed infected. In the year 2000, AIDS caused the deaths of 40 percent of people aged 15 to 19, and 25 percent of all deaths, accounting for the greatest number of deaths in the country.