Vitamin A supplementation for reducing the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection

Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV is the primary way that children become infected with HIV. More than 1000 children worldwide are infected in this way every day. Researchers theorized that giving vitamin A supplements to HIV-infected pregnant or breastfeeding women might make it less likely that their children would be infected with HIV. The primary objective of this review of randomised studies is to estimate the effect of vitaminA supplementation during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding on the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection. The secondary objectives are to estimate the effect of vitamin A supplementation on infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, and to describe any side effects for the mother and the new baby.

The authors found that currently available evidence does not support the use of vitamin A supplementation of HIV-infected pregnant or breastfeeding women to reduce MTCT of HIV, although there is an indication that vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy improves birth weight.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current best evidence shows that antenatal or postpartum vitamin A supplementation probably has little or no effect on mother-to-child transmission of HIV. According to the GRADE classification, the quality of this evidence is moderate; implying that the true effect of vitamin A supplementation on the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is likely to be close to the findings of this review, but that there is also a possibility that it is substantially different.

Read the full abstract...

Observational studies of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa have shown that low serum vitamin A levels are associated with an increased risk of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV. Vitamin A is cheap and easily provided through existing health services in low-income settings. It is thus important to determine the effect of routine supplementation of HIV positive pregnant or breastfeeding women with this vitamin on the risk of MTCT of HIV, which currently results in more than 1000 new HIV infections each day world-wide.


We aimed to assess the effect of antenatal and or postpartum vitamin A supplementation on the risk of MTCT of HIV as well as infant and maternal mortality and morbidity.

Search strategy: 

In June 2010 we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PubMed, EMBASE, AIDS Education Global Information System, and WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform; and checked reference lists of identified articles for any studies published after the earlier version of this review was updated in 2008.

Selection criteria: 

We selected randomised controlled trials conducted in any setting that compared vitamin A supplementation with placebo in known HIV-infected pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two authors independently assessed trial eligibility and quality and extracted data. We calculated relative risks (RR) or mean differences (MD), with their 95% confidence intervals (CI) for each study. We conducted meta-analysis using a fixed-effects method (when there was no significant heterogeneity between study results, i.e. P>0.1) or the random-effects method (when there was significant heterogeneity), and report the Higgins' statistic for all pooled effect measures.

Main results: 

Five randomised controlled trials which enrolled 7,528 HIV-infected women (either during pregnancy or the immediate postpartum period) met our inclusion criteria. These trials were conducted in Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe between 1995 and 2005. We combined the results of these trials and found no evidence that vitamin A supplementation has an effect on the risk of MTCT of HIV (4 trials, 6517 women: RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.24; I2=68%). However, antenatal vitamin A supplementation significantly improved birth weight (3 trials, 1809 women: MD 89.78, 95%CI 84.73 to 94.83; I2=33.0%), but there was no evidence of an effect on preterm births (3 trials, 2110 women: RR 0.88, 95%CI 0.65 to 1.19; I2=58.1%), stillbirths (4 trials, 2855 women: RR 0.99, 95%CI 0.68 to 1.43; I2=0%), deaths by 24 months (2 trials, 1635 women: RR 1.03, 95%CI 0.88 to 1.20; I2=0%), postpartum CD4 levels (1 trial, 727 women: MD -4.00, 95% CI -51.06 to 43.06), and maternal death ( 1 trial, 728 women: RR 0.49, 95%CI 0.04 to 5.37).