HIV transmission during paediatric health care in sub- Saharan Africa – risks and evidence

  • David Gisselquist 29 West Governer Road, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
  • John J Potterat 301 South Union Boulevard, Colorado Springs, USA
  • Stuart Brody Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioural Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Germany


Health care systems in sub-Saharan Africa are challenged not only to improve care for the increasing number of HIV-infected children, but also to prevent transmission of HIV to other children and health care workers through contaminated medical procedures and needlestick accidents. HIV-infected children aged to 1 year typically have high viral loads, making them dangerous reservoirs for iatrogenic transmission. Most vertically infected children experience HIV-related symptoms early, though many survive beyond 5 years. This leads to high HIV prevalence among inpatient and outpatient children. In nine African studies, HIV prevalence in inpatient children ranged from 8.2% to 63%, roughly 1 - 3 times the prevalence in antenatal women. Investigations of large iatrogenic outbreaks in Russia, Romania, and Libya demonstrate efficient HIV transmission through paediatric health care. Unexplained HIV infections in African children are not rare – studies published through 2003 have recorded more than 300 HIV-infected children with HIV-negative mothers. In addition, several studies have reported much higher HIV prevalence in children 5 - 14 years old than could be expected from mother-to-child transmission alone. Research is required to determine the extent of iatrogenic HIV infection among African children as well as to identify high-risk procedures and settings. Such research can motivate and direct prevention efforts.

S Afr Med J 2004; 94: 109-116.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135