Mortality, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Transmission, and Growth in Children Exposed to HIV in Rural Zimbabwe

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Feb 16;72(4):586-594. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa076.


Background: Clinical outcomes of children who are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-exposed in sub-Saharan Africa remain uncertain.

Methods: The Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy (SHINE) trial evaluated improved infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and/or improved water, sanitation, and hygiene in 2 rural Zimbabwean districts with 15% antenatal HIV prevalence and > 80% prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) coverage. Children born between February 2013 and December 2015 had longitudinal HIV testing and anthropometry. We compared mortality and growth between children who were HIV-exposed and HIV-unexposed through 18 months. Children receiving IYCF were excluded from growth analyses.

Results: Fifty-one of 738 (7%) children who were HIV-exposed and 198 of 3989 (5%) children who were HIV-unexposed (CHU) died (hazard ratio, 1.41 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.02-1.93]). Twenty-five (3%) children who were HIV-exposed tested HIV positive, 596 (81%) were HIV-exposed uninfected (CHEU), and 117 (16%) had unknown HIV status by 18 months; overall transmission estimates were 4.3%-7.7%. Mean length-for-age z score at 18 months was 0.38 (95% CI, .24-.51) standard deviations lower among CHEU compared to CHU. Among 367 children exposed to HIV in non-IYCF arms, 147 (40%) were alive, HIV-free, and nonstunted at 18 months, compared to 1169 of 1956 (60%) CHU (absolute difference, 20% [95% CI, 15%-26%]).

Conclusions: In rural Zimbabwe, mortality remains 40% higher among children exposed to HIV, vertical transmission exceeds elimination targets, and half of CHEU are stunted. We propose the composite outcome of "alive, HIV free, and thriving" as the long-term goal of PMTCT programs.

Clinical trials registration: NCT01824940.

Keywords: Africa; HIV transmission; children HIV-exposed but uninfected; growth; mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • HIV
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious*
  • Sanitation
  • Zimbabwe / epidemiology

Associated data