Pregnancy is a very special time in a woman's life. You have to make serious decisions that affect your and your baby's health, and this is especially important if you are living with a chronic condition like HIV.
Since HIV education started in the mid-1990s, our knowledge of HIV and AIDS has evolved tremendously. Today, we know that pregnant women who have HIV can give birth to healthy babies who are HIV negative. Our medicine has advanced so much that with the right treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, without the threat of transmitting the condition to their children or loved ones.
Know your status
The first step to protecting yourself and your unborn child is knowing your status. Screening tests are an important first step on your road to health. The sooner you know whether or not you have a chronic condition, the sooner you can start working on getting better.
Pregnant women need to know their HIV status because antiretroviral treatment can allow mothers who have HIV to give birth to healthy babies who are HIV negative. Antiretrovirals are available to all HIV-positive South African women for free, even if you don't belong to a medical aid.
When can the virus spread from mother to baby?
An HIV-positive mother can pass the virus on to her baby while she is pregnant, during birth or when breastfeeding. This is called mother-to-child transmission. According to the World Health Organization, the chance that the baby will be HIV positive is 15 to 45% if the mother is not on treatment. With antiretroviral treatment, this falls to 5%.
Preventing mother-to-child transmission became an official National Department of Health policy in 2010. By 2016, UNAIDS estimated that more than 95% of HIV-positive pregnant South African women were receiving antiretroviral treatment to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. The results were impressive. Mother-to-child transmission rates nationwide fell from 3.6% to 1.5% between 2011 and 2016, achieving the 2015 target of a transmission rate below 2%. According to the South African National AIDS Council, the country is now on track to eliminate mother-to-child transmission.
You can have a vaginal delivery or breastfeed on antiretroviral treatment
Antiretroviral treatment reduces the viral load of HIV in your body. In other words, it reduces how much of the virus can be found in the blood. What you really want is an undetectable viral load. This does not mean you are cured of HIV, but it does make the chance of you passing on the virus very small.
Depending on your health, it may be possible to have a vaginal delivery and breastfeed if your viral load is low enough. So, if you're pregnant, commit to knowing your HIV status and get support for you and your baby's best possible future health.
Ask your treating doctor for advice about how best to look after your baby. And if you're a member of Discovery Health Medical Scheme, join the HIV Care programme for comprehensive and confidential help to keep as healthy as possible.
UNAIDS. Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, 24 October 2016; accessed 6 December 2017
Western Cape Government. Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT); accessed 5 December 2017.
World Health Organization. Bulletin: Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission in South Africa; accessed 5 December 2017
Get confidential, cost-effective and clinically sound HIV care
Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) who are diagnosed with HIV have access to our care programme, HIVCare, for skilled assistance and clinically sound treatment. The programme includes cover for a list of medicine that prevents HIV from spreading from mother to child, as well as some baby formulas, for a period of 6 months, to help the baby grow big and strong.
And remember, all DHMS members on a Priority, Saver, Smart, Core or KeyCare plan can avoid a 20% co-payment simply by using use a Premier Plus GP to manage their condition.
Get the care you need by doing a Vitality Health Check
Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme can go for a yearly basic health check without the cost affecting their day-to-day benefits or Medical Savings Account.
As part of the standard health check, you can find out your blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI) and have a confidential HIV test. Remember that Vitality members can also earn Vitality points for completing a Vitality Health Check.
You know new life is precious and getting the best care is important. With the right support, you can have peace of mind when it comes to the care your child needs or when you're thinking of growing your family.
This is the first of a two-part feature, a financial writer at Discovery and father of twins, offers honest and tongue-in-cheek advice to expecting dads. The article was first published in Men’s Health in February 2018.
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