Researchers at Makerere University John Hopkins Research Collaboration (MUJHU) are recommending continuous birth defects surveillance systems and strict adverse reactions reporting as new HIV medicines are introduced for pregnant women.

The researchers who did a study in Kampala based hospitals found prevalence of birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord collectively known as neural tube defects at 9.8% where over a hundred babies born to HIV positive mothers were found to have complications in a period of three years.

This study comes amid continuous debate on whether dolutegravir, a newer HIV medication in many African countries including Uganda bears a risk of complications to babies whose mothers were taking the drug at the time of inception or in early pregnancy.

Uganda has approved use of dolutegravir in pregnancy and in the new study a team of experts led by Robert Serunjogi sought to understand whether there is a direct connection between the use of Anti-Retroviral Therapies (ART) during pregnancy and the increased occurrence of neural tube defects. They found sipina bifida to be the most prevalent followed by anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.

The team analyzed data from hospital-based birth defects surveillance in Kampala where all live births, stillbirths, and spontaneous abortions delivered at the participating hospitals affected with selected birth defects between August 2015 and December 2018.

A total of 110,752 births from 107,133 women were included in the analysis where 9,394 women were HIV-infected. Among the infected, 95% had been swallowing their HIV medication at delivery.

A total of 109 babies had complications.

However, neural tube defects happen within the first weeks of conception. Scientists say they many times happen before a woman knows she is pregnant and causes are many including use of certain medicines.

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