Evaluating maternal characteristics and DNA polymerase chain reaction birth testing of neonates born with HIV in a KwaZulu-Natal referral hospital – missed opportunities?

S Abushkiwa, R Singh, K Naidoo


Background. Congenital HIV infection has declined in South Africa with an expanded programme to decrease perinatal HIV transmission. Understanding the challenges within this programme can identify opportunities for improvements. There is an opportunity with birth HIV DNA polymerase chain reaction testing to expedite very early treatment of neonates born with HIV in referral hospitals. 

Objectives. This study was aimed at describing the characteristics of mothers of neonates born with HIV as well as the evaluation of the access and availability of birth HIV DNA PCR results within a referral hospital. 

Method. This study was a retrospective chart review of all documented neonates born with HIV delivered between 1 January 2017 and 30 June 2019 at King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. The birth HIV DNA PCR results provided through institutional programmes were analysed, and the clinical characteristics of mothers of neonates born with HIV were described. 

Results. Review of hospital-based records, during the 30-month study period, identified 6 902 (40.02% of 17 243 total live births) birth HIV DNA PCR tests having been done. During the sample period, documented positive, rejected or indeterminate results were analysed. These results indicated only 37 (0.54%) of known HIV-exposed neonates who were tested, to have a documented positive birth HIV DNA PCR result. Fifty-nine neonates had either indeterminate or rejected results. Negative HIV DNA PCR results could not be verified. Analysis of the mothers of neonates with documented HIV-positive results indicated high mean viral loads of these mothers (52 343 copies/mL) and most were diagnosed in the current pregnancy or at delivery. 

Conclusion. Review of the characteristics of mothers of neonates born with HIV within a public referral hospital reiterates that late HIV diagnosis is common in this high-risk group. Birth HIV DNA PCR results may fail to adequately identify all positive neonates timeously for very early initiation of antiretroviral treatment.

Authors' affiliations

S Abushkiwa, Department of Paediatric and Child Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

R Singh, King Edward VIII Hospital, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Durban, South Africa

K Naidoo, King Edward VIII Hospital, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Durban, South Africa

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South African Journal of Child Health 2021;15(3):149-154. DOI:10.7196/SAJCH.2021.v15i3.01771

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-10-14
Date published: 2021-10-14

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