Background: Millions of HIV-infected women in developing countries are in need of safe and highly effective antiretroviral therapy. Pregnancy rates are usually high in developing countries, and efavirenz (EFV) use in women of childbearing age is of concern because of its potential teratogenicity.
Methods: As part of a prospective study comparing 6 initial highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) regimens, 3 of which contained EFV, pregnancy and birth outcomes were evaluated among female participants enrolled in a randomized clinical trial in Botswana. Before enrollment, all female participants indicated a willingness to avoid pregnancy for the 3-year duration of the study. Monthly urine pregnancy testing and regular contraceptive education and counseling were given to all women on study.
Results: Four hundred fifty-one (69.4%) of 650 enrolled study participants were female and experienced 71 pregnancies, for a rate of 7.9 per 100 person-years during the study. The mean time from HAART initiation to time of first pregnancy was 385 days. The median birth weight of babies was 2950 g (interquartile range: 2700-3250 g); the gender of babies (24 female and 15 male) and occurrence of early pregnancy loss (42%) and stillbirths (3%) did not differ between EFV- and non-EFV-exposed pregnancies (P=0.7). First-trimester EFV exposure occurred in 38 (53.5%) of the 71 pregnancies; 22 (57.9%) of these 38 pregnancies resulted in live births. One infant (4.5%) of the 22 EFV-exposed live births had a congenital abnormality with right limb shortening that was assessed to be unrelated to EFV exposure.
Conclusions: The restoration of health and longevity in many HAART-treated women is often accompanied by childbearing, as evidenced by the large fraction of women in our cohort who became pregnant despite their initial statements of intent to avoid pregnancy. Of 22 first-trimester EFV-exposed live births, 1 neonate was found to have a major congenital abnormality; however, this defect was unrelated to EFV exposure. The small sample size is insufficient to estimate accurately the underlying risk of congenital malformation after exposure to EFV in early pregnancy, underscoring the importance of reporting to the existing international Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry. In addition to accessing safe and effective HAART regimens, HIV-infected women require access to comprehensive family planning services, including contraception and procreation counseling.