600 10.05.18 Linda-Gail Bekker, during International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) statement for world AIDS Vaccine Day, held at the Vega school auditorium in Bardeaux, Johannesburg. Picture:Itumeleng English

Cape Town’s pilot project that initiates antiretroviral therapy (ART) much earlier in pregnancy has cut HIV transmission by more than half.

The project, carried out by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Hanover Park, saw HIV-positive women eligible for treatment getting ART up to six weeks earlier than they usually would.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, the head of the foundation, said more than 90 percent of women who started ART on their first visit, instead of waiting for blood test results, reduced their risk of transmission to 0.93 percent, compared to the national rate of 2.4 percent.

Bekker said this reduction was comparable to First World levels.

“These are exciting times for prevention of mother to child transmission… through rapid ART initiation we have the potential to virtually eradicate HIV transmission from mother to child in South Africa,” she said.

Research suggested that for each week a mother was on ART the risk of HIV transmission was reduced, with a Cape Town study quantifying the risk reduction to 20 percent each week. - Cape Argus