AIDS Gets New Foe; Kids in Africa Get New Hope

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As anyone anywhere in the world can attest to ó except quite possibly in Washington, where the current HMO debate is raging ó the best medical treatment isnít worth anything if you canít afford it. So it came as momentous news on Wednesday when a joint American-Ugandan research team announced a new, simple and inexpensive way to help prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus from pregnant mother to child. The new treatment uses the drug nevirapine, whose costs amounts to about $4, instead of the standard, short-course AZT regimen used in the Third World, whose costs total an impractical $268. Better yet, the new method proved more effective: It brought the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission down to 13 percent, a big improvement over the 25 percent transmission risk of the standard Third World AZT method.

"The new treatment is probably not as effective as the even more complicated, more expensive, full-course AZT treatment used in the United States," says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman. "But in the Third World, where costs and infrastructure make that kind of treatment impossible, this allows you to do something instead of nothing." And that something is not inconsequential: Researchers estimate that the new nevirapine regimen could prevent 300,000 to 400,000 newborns each year from being infected by HIV. In the developing world, where 1,800 babies are born each day with the AIDS virus, this is revolutionary medicine.