Babies born to HIV-positive mothers could be given a new lease of life
A new process called Pretoria Pasteurisation, which prevents the AIDS-causing virus from being transmitted through breast milk, has been
developed after extensive research by the University of Pretoria's faculty of health sciences.
Dr Bridget Jeffery, from the Medical Research Council's unit for maternal and infant healthcare strategies at Kalafong Hospital, said she found that
neither of the feeding methods used by HIV-positive mothers was safe or without risk.
Drugs such as Nevirapine greatly reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child, but after birth the mother faces serious feeding issues.
According to Jeffery, if uninfected babies are breast-fed, they run a 14 percent risk of contracting the HIV, while babies who are
bottle-fed are at risk of bacterial infections. This is because formula milk does not
have the immune-promoting substances or vitamins that breast milk does.
Women in rural areas do also not have the facilities to sterilise bottles.
We needed to find a way to make breast milk safe. HIV is easily killed by heat, but if you merely boil the milk the heat will also destroy the
vitamins and immune-promoting substances in the milk, said Jeffry.
In industrialised countries, sophisticated methods of pasteurising expressed breast milk have been used with great success, but they are unsuitable for
South African conditions as they are too expensive to be used extensively in poorer areas.
According to Jeffery, they had to find a way to heat breast milk to a temperature ranging between 56°C and 62°C, which would render the virus
ineffective, using utensils that were readily available.
The first phase of the research involved experiments on water temperatures, the amount of water and containers used to find the appropriate method to
pasteurise the milk in rural areas.
The process that was settled on used a one-litre aluminium pot and a glass peanut butter jar. The jar containing the milk is placed in the pot and
boiling water is then poured into the pot. Once the water in the pot has cooled down to about body temperature, the baby can be fed using a clean
Jeffery said this method was reliable for amounts up to 150ml.
Since January this year, premature babies have been fed using this method at Kalafong Hospital. The next step will be to study whether it also works for
healthy full-term babies. (Source:The Star, 17 June 2002)