The recommendations, based on the latest scientific data, also ask pregnant women to start taking the medicines as early as 14 weeks and continue throughout the breastfeeding period.

The UN has recommended intake of Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for breastfeeding women to reduce the mother-to-child HIV transmission risk to five per cent or lower.

The recommendations, based on the latest scientific data, also ask pregnant women to start taking the medicines as early as 14 weeks and continue throughout the breastfeeding period.

“These new recommendations are based on the most up to date, available data,” said Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director General for HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Their widespread adoption will enable many more people in high-burden areas to live longer and healthier lives,” he said marking the World AIDS Day.

Earlier in 2006, WHO had recommended to provide ARVs to HIV-positive pregnant women in the third trimester beginning at 28 weeks to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of the virus.

However, this is for the first time the UN health watchdog has endorsed Antiretroviral drugs for breastfeeding mothers.

The early exposure to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for adults and adolescents will boost immune system, reducing risk of HIV-related death and lowers the risk of transmission of the virus and TB.

Endorsing breastfeeding to continue until the infant is 12 months of age, WHO said that breastfeeding mother or baby is taking ARVs during that period that will improve the infant’s chance of survival.

“In the new recommendations, we are sending a clear message that breastfeeding is a good option for every baby, even those with HIV-positive mothers, when they have access to ARVs,” said Daisy Mafubelu, WHO’s Assistant Director General for Family and Community Health.

The global health body also underlined that lack of infrastructure and resources besides poor integration are the main challenges in preventing in resource-limited countries.

“The expansion of ART and PMTCT services is currently hindered by weak infrastructure, limited human and financial resources, and poor integration of HIV-specific interventions within broader maternal and child health services,” WHO said.

“Another challenge lies in encouraging more people to receive voluntary HIV testing and counselling before they have symptoms,” it added, noting that many HIV-positive people are waiting too long for treatment.

An estimated 33.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with some 2.7 million new infections each year.

Globally, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of mortality among women of reproductive age, according to the UN.

“Globally, 45 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women are now receiving treatment to prevent them passing HIV on to their children, an increase of nearly 200 per cent since 2005,” Ann M Veneman, UNICEF chief has earlier said.

More In: Rx | Health | Sci-Tech