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New Project Calls for More HIV Research That Includes Pregnant Women

AUG 19, 2016 | KRISTI ROSA
Anne Lyerly, MD, MA, associate director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Bioethics and associate professor of social medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, is leading the PHASES Project, funded by a grant of over $3 million from the National Institutes of Health, in an effort to address the need for effective HIV prevention and treatment options for pregnant women worldwide, according to a press release.

Despite scientific advancements, HIV remains a global problem; around 1.2 million people are infected with HIV in the United States alone, and of those people, about 13% are unaware that they are even infected, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, most of the research that is currently being done on HIV is neglecting a key population: pregnant women. Approximately 16.1 million women worldwide are estimated to be HIV-positive and millions more are at risk of infection, according to the PHASES press release posted on the UNC Center for Bioethics website.

Dr. Lyerly addressed the lack of HIV research regarding pregnant women in her study recently published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society’s August issue. She said that this lack of essential information has “led to a dearth of evidence to guide safe and effective treatment and prevention of HIV in pregnancy.”

According to the press release, most of the research that has been done regarding pregnant women who are HIV-positive, focuses mainly on the health and wellbeing of the fetus. Most HIV studies have excluded pregnant women, even the studies that discuss possible prevention strategies.

Most HIV studies have excluded pregnant women, even the studies that discuss possible prevention strategies.
Dr. Lyerly said that the lack of available research has resulted in “major gaps in understanding how best to address the health needs of pregnant women living with or at risk for HIV.”

According to the study, 62 HIV clinicians and researchers, mostly based in the US, were interviewed to discuss what they considered might be potential barriers when it comes to conducting studies that include pregnant women. Around half of the researchers conducted international studies. Through this research, study authors found that the biggest barriers consisted of ethical (benefits/risks), legal (minimal understanding of legal regulations/liability issues), and financial concerns.

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