Prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) program outcomes in South Africa in the pre-COVID and COVID eras

BMC Public Health. 2023 Jul 20;23(1):1395. doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-16214-5.


Introduction: Two decades after implementing the Prevention of Mother to Child transmission (PMTCT) program, South Africa has still not managed to eliminate intrauterine mother-to-child (MTCT) HIV transmission. During the COVID pandemic access to maternal health services was reduced, potentially compromising the PMTCT program.

Method: A retrospective record review was conducted at a midwife-run obstetric unit in a high HIV prevalence setting. Data on pregnant women who delivered between January 2019 and December 2020 were analysed to evaluate predictors for MTCT, and compare pre-COVID and COVID-era changes in maternal and infant HIV incidence and prevalence.

Results: A total of 1660 women delivered at the facility over a 24-month period (Jan 2019-Dec 2020), of whom 92.8% enrolled for antenatal care in 2019 and 94.6% in 2020. A significantly greater proportion of women were aware of their HIV status before enrolling for antenatal care in the pre-COVID (2019) than COVID (2020) period (88% vs 40.2%; p < 0.05). There was a significant increase in new HIV infection after enrolling for antenatal care during the COVID period compared to pre-COVID period (120 vs 62 women, p < 0.05). There was also a significant increase in the HIV prevalence among women who delivered during the COVID period than in the pre-COVID era (43.5% compared to 35.8%, p < 0.05). However, more than 95% of HIV-positive women initiated ART in both periods. Overall, a total of thirteen infants tested HIV positive (2.1% MTCT rate), with no difference in MTCT between 2019 and 2020. Infants born to women on antiretroviral therapy (ART) were 93% less likely to have a positive PCR test than those whose mothers who were not on ART. (OR = 0.07, 95% CI 0.031:0.178, p < 0.05).

Conclusion: The increase in maternal HIV incidence and prevalence during the COVID era suggest a lapse in HIV prevention strategies during the COVID pandemic. There is an urgent need to improve community test-and-treat campaigns among women of reproductive age in the community and increase access to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis for pregnant women, especially during periods of health crises.

Keywords: ART; Antenatal care; HIV; MTCT; Pregnancy; South Africa.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control
  • Mothers
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • South Africa / epidemiology