The Bickerstaff Family Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach is celebrating a quarter century of zero HIV transmissions from mother to baby for families under care at the Center. Miller Children’s & Women’s is the only free-standing children’s hospital in Los Angeles and Orange County to reach this momentous achievement.
“We’re so proud of the work our center has done over several decades not only to offer the best outcomes for mothers and their children, but to further educate, support and advance medical care for those in our community affected by this complex disease,” says Jag Batra, M.D., medical director, Bickerstaff Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s.
The Bickerstaff Family Center cares for children and pregnant women who are infected with HIV, have chronic infections and/or other immunological disorders.
In the absence of any intervention, HIV transmission rates from mother to baby range from 15% to 45%, according to the World Health Organization. This rate can be reduced with effective interventions during pregnancy, labor, delivery and avoiding breastfeeding.
Audra Deveikis, M.D., has been with Miller Children’s & Women’s for the last three decades and created what would become the Bickerstaff Center, first focusing on children and later adding care for mothers affected by HIV/AIDS at a time when few other health care providers would treat them. She is a major contributor to the leading research and treatment initiatives that have enabled Miller Children’s & Women’s to maintain zero transmissions since the 1990s.
“We began this journey in 1995, and at that time AIDS was the leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25-44,” says Dr. Deveikis. “Trying to prevent HIV-positive mothers from transmitting to their child is extremely laborious, especially in the early days.”
HIV testing is key for all expectant mothers. Interventions today primarily involve antiretroviral therapy for the mother and a short course of antiretroviral drugs for the exposed baby. Antiretroviral therapy prevents HIV from replicating (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (called the viral load).
Having an undetectable viral load significantly helps prevent transmission from mother to baby. If a mother with HIV takes medicine throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery and gives medicine to her baby for 4 to 6 weeks after birth, the risk of transmitting HIV can be 1% or less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After birth, in addition to medication, infants are immediately tested for HIV. Additionally, patients undergo routine testing and evaluations for more than a year and a half to ensure HIV-negativity.
The physicians at the Bickerstaff Family Center partner with the BirthCare Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s to ensure a woman’s pre-and post-natal care is provided using a collaborative approach that ensures the best outcomes for mother and baby.
In honor of their outstanding work to ensure the safety of countless mothers and children in the community, the Bickerstaff Family Center team received certificates of recognition from U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.