Published: Friday 15 November 1996

hiv -positive mothers double the risks of passing hiv to their babies through breast milk, suggests a controversial South African study. Breastfeeding is believed to be the best prevention against diarrhoeal or respiratory diseases which claim the lives of thousands of infants in developing countries. The danger of hiv infection through breast milk puts even more children at the risk of these diseases.

Till now, the chances of an uninfected infant getting the aids virus through breastfeeding had been put at 14 per cent. The new study was conducted by Glenda Gray and her colleagues at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg among more than 100 babies born to hiv -positive mothers. Of the 49 babies fed on infant formula, 18 per cent acquired the hiv, while 46 per cent of the 53 babies fed on breast milk were found to be hiv -positive.

However, health authorities have reacted cautiously to the study. "A blanket recommendation that all hiv - positive mothers should not breastfeed would be facile," opines Nancy Jo Peck of the International Baby Food Network, which promotes maternal and child health in developing countries.

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