The reported observation of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 through breastfeeding has resulted in policies that recommend avoidance of breastfeeding by some HIV-1 infected women. Because breastfeeding protects against the infectious diseases (particularly pneumonia and diarrhea) that kill over 9 million children worldwide each year, this has led to a debate amongst policymakers. Now, an international team of scientists, coordinated by the World Health Organization -- Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development and the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil, has found that breastfed infants had a six-fold reduction in death due to infectious diseases in the first few months of life compared to children who were not breastfed.
Using data sets from Brazil, The Gambia, Ghana, Pakistan, Philippines and Senegal, the researchers found that breastfed children had a lower mortality throughout the second year of life. However, protection diminished with the children1s advancing age. The study also found that the protection against infectious disease mortality was greater in infants of women with low educational status -- those who are least likely to be able to provide their infants with safe breastmilk substitutes.
Earlier studies (The Lancet 1999 Aug 7;354(9177):471-6) suggest that exclusive breastfeeding may reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 to a level close to non-breastfeeding. Policy concerning HIV and breastfeeding is in review in many countries; the current study should be an valuable contribution to the debate on the importance of breastfeeding and HIV transmission.
Experts on Breastfeeding include:
. Cesar Victora (Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil)
. Jose Martines (WHO -- Child and Adolescent Health and Development)
. Felicity Savage (WHO -- Child and Adolescent Health and Development)