Background: Effective antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy minimizes the risk of vertical HIV transmission. Some women present late in their pregnancy for first antenatal visit; whether these women achieve viral suppression by delivery and how suppression varies with time on ART is unclear.
Methods: We conducted a prospective cohort study of HIV-infected pregnant women initiating antiretroviral therapy for the first time at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi from June 2015 to November 2016. Multivariable Poisson models with robust variance estimators were used to estimate risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of the association between duration of ART and both viral load (VL) ≥1000 copies/ml and VL ≥40 copies/ml at delivery.
Results: Of the 252 women who had viral load testing at delivery, 40 (16%) and 78 (31%) had VL ≥1000 copies/ml and VL ≥40 copies/ml, respectively. The proportion of women with poor adherence to ART was higher among women who were on ART for ≤12 weeks (9/50 = 18.0%) than among those who were on ART for 13-35 weeks (18/194 = 9.3%). Compared to women who were on ART for ≤12 weeks, women who were on ART for 13-20 weeks (RR = 0.52; 95% CI: 0.36-0.74) or 21-35 weeks (RR = 0.26; 95% CI: 0.14-0.48) had a lower risk of VL ≥40 copies/ml at delivery. Similar comparisons for VL ≥1000 copies/ml at delivery showed decrease in risk although not significant for those on ART 13-20 weeks.
Conclusion: Longer duration of ART during pregnancy was associated with suppressed viral load at delivery. Early ANC attendance in pregnancy to facilitate prompt ART initiation for HIV-positive women is essential in the effort to eliminate HIV vertical transmission.