Background: Zidovudine reduces the rate of vertical transmission of HIV in non-breastfed populations. We assessed the acceptability, tolerance, and 6-month efficacy of a short regimen of oral zidovudine in African populations practising breastfeeding.
Methods: A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial was carried out in public clinics of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Eligible participants were women aged 18 years or older, who had confirmed HIV-1 infection and pregnancy of 36-38 weeks duration, and who gave written informed consent. Exclusion criteria were severe anaemia, neutropenia, abnormal liver function, and sickle-cell disease. Women were randomly assigned zidovudine (n=214; 300 mg twice daily until labour, 600 mg at beginning of labour, and 300 mg twice daily for 7 days post partum) or matching placebo (n=217). The primary outcome was the diagnosis of HIV-1 infection in the infant on the basis of sequential DNA PCR tests at days 1-8, 45, 90, and 180. We compared the probability of infection at a given age in the two groups. Analyses were by intention to treat.
Findings: Women were enrolled between September, 1995, and February, 1998, when enrolment to the placebo group was stopped. Analysis was based on 421 women and 400 lifeborn infants. Baseline demographic, clinical, and laboratory characteristics were similar in the two groups. The Kaplan-Meier probability of HIV infection in the infant at 6 months was 18.0% in the zidovudine group (n=192) and 27.5% in the placebo group (n=197; relative efficacy 0.38 [95% CI 0.05-0.60]; p=0.027). Adjustment for centre, period of recruitment, mode of delivery, maternal CD4-cell count, duration of labour, prolonged rupture of membranes, and duration of breastfeeding did not change the treatment effect. The proportions of women taking more than 80% of the planned maximum dose were 75% before delivery, 81% during labour, and 83% post partum, without statistical difference between the groups. No major adverse biological or clinical event was reported in excess among women and children of the zidovudine group.
Interpretation: A short course of oral zidovudine given during the peripartum period is well accepted and well tolerated, and provides a 38% reduction in early vertical transmission of HIV-1 infection despite breastfeeding.