Drug Stems Mother-Infant HIV

A new study presented Wednesday at the opening of an international conference on pediatric AIDS confirms that an inexpensive drug can prevent 50 percent of babies born to HIV-infected mothers from getting the disease. CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports.

Over 700 scientists, epidemiologists and AIDS workers are gathering in Montreal for the six-day conference to focus on how to prevent the transmission of HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- from mothers to infants.

What is especially wonderful about the drug, says conference chairman Dr. Arthur Ammann, is that nevirapine is so inexpensive. The drug only has to be given once to an infected mother with AIDS and one to the infant before the child begins breastfeeding.

"That combination of drugs reduced HIV infection rates by 50 percent and the extraordinary thing was that that combination cost only four dollars," Dr. Ammann says.

Dr. Ammann tells CBS Radio News drugs like AZT have been preventing transmission of the AIDS virus between mothers and babies in this country. However, the cost of treating an AIDS patient with the drug cocktail of AZT, 3TC and a protease inhibitor is about $18,000 a year.

Price is a precious factor in helping stop the spread of the deadly disease, especially in third world nations.

Industrial nations such as Canada, the United States and many European countries can afford AIDS research and drugs, but many developing nations don't have the resources to stem the disease.

Some 1,600 infants are infected with HIV each day in developing countries such as India, China and in parts of Africa.

"If we act now, we could prevent as many as 300,000 HIV infections of infants a year," Dr. Ammann says.

Rebecca Dennison is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. She was one of the very first to try nevirapine. She gave birth to twin healthy baby girls three years ago, and calls the treatment "wonderful."

Dennison says it's "very gratifying to know this drug will be affordable in the third world."

"I look forward to, when [my daughters] are older, telling them how they helped fight HIV for children in other parts of the world," says Dennison.

Nevirapine is sold in the United States under the brand name Viramune.