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Can a Pouch the Size of a Ketchup Packet Prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV?

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women get tested for HIV as early as possible, some are unable to do so. Oftentimes, particularly in underdeveloped countries, access to testing and antiretroviral drugs such as Nevirapine and Zidovudine, is very limited; this puts unborn children at risk of acquiring the infection from their pregnant mothers who are positive for the virus. However, this mother-to-child transmission can be prevented, and students from Duke University’s Developing World Healthcare Technologies Lab have managed to develop a medical device to aid in this effort. According to the CDC, there are around 8,500 women giving birth each year who are HIV-positive and each day, 1,000 children around the world acquire HIV, the majority as newborns. According to the United Nations, mother-to-child transmission in the developing world leads to a 260,000 newly acquired infections in children annually. Although preventing this transmission is possible with the assistance of antiretroviral drugs, in order to ensure that the drugs will be effective, they need to be administered preferably within 24 hours of birth, and, at most, 72 hours. Many clinics in developing areas that have been hit especially hard by the virus—such as Sub-Saharan Africa—have these drugs available, but the majority of pregnant women tend to deliver their babies at home. Therefore, these babies are at risk of acquiring the virus during the birthing process or even through breastfeeding. Additionally, “previous attempts to give the medication to newborns using syringes, cups and spoons, were failing because the [antiretroviral] was degrading before it could be administered.” In a press release, Robert Malkin, PhD, a biomedical engineering professor at Duke University, said, “We realized quickly that [the situation] was a drug storage and delivery problem that we could solve.”

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