Number of HIV+ babies born in SA less than half UK Guardian’s figure

An old figure quoted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper overstates the share of HIV+ mothers transmitting the virus to their babies in South Africa.

Since this report was published, the Guardian Development Professionals network responded to us on Twitter. The Guardian has corrected the news article to reflect the most recent data. Avert, the organisation whose report the Guardian's article was based on, has also corrected its report to refer to the latest data on mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Reporting on Mothers to Mothers, a non-profit support group for HIV positive mothers, the Guardian’s Global Development network for professional reported that “in South Africa, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has fallen to 3.5%”.

The Guardian also tweeted this as a key fact in its article.

Is the figure correct?

3.5% figure based on a 2010 data

The Guardian’s report links to a 2015 review of South Africa’s progress in tackling HIV published by Avert, a non-profit organisation formed in 1986 to inform and educate people about HIV. It operates in southern and east Africa as well as India.

Avert cites as their source a 2011 review of South Africa’s 2007-2011 National Strategic Plan, the country’s blueprint for reducing HIV and AIDS. In turn, the review refers to a study by the South African Medical Research Council in 2010.

The 2010 SA MRC survey looked at nearly 600 health facilities across the country, where over 10,000 babies were born. It estimated that the national mother-to-child transmission rate was 3.5%.  

‘Results are unprecedented’

But the 3.5% figure is not the most recent available. In 2016, the Medical Research Council released a statement citing a new estimate.

According to the council, the number of HIV+ infants born to HIV+ mothers was estimated to be 1.4% in 2015. These findings are based on three national surveys between 2012 and 2014, led by the Medical Research Council, in partnership with key institutions like South Africa’s national department of health and UNICEF.

The press release, issued on 19 July this year, says that the “results are unprecedented” for a national programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission in a country with a high rate of HIV.

Conclusion: UK Guardian’s outdated figure incorrect

When the UK Guardian newspaper stated that “mother-to-child transmission of HIV has fallen to 3.5%”, they relied on a 2010 research.

The latest data, based on a combination of surveys, shows that the estimated transmission rate is 1.4%, less than half the figure reported by the Guardian.


Additional reading

Frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS in South Africa

UN Chief on HIV/AIDS: 3 claims by Ban Ki Moon scrutinised

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