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Pursuing ethical coherence in the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV: justice and injustice in Option B+

Author List
Nathan Hodson
Susan Bewley


Improved prevention of vertical transmission of HIV is an essential part of the global response to HIV. The Option B+ strategy took the extraordinary step of treating many non-pregnant women living with HIV (those with CD4 cell counts >350 cells/mm3) in the absence of evidence that they themselves would benefit from ART. This example of so-called AIDS exceptionalism reflects an understanding that the global response to HIV demands a different set of morals. This philosophical article explores a retrospective analysis of the ethical arguments made in support of Option B+ incorporating utilitarian, feminist and equity-based frameworks. A number of inconsistencies were found in the arguments made for the introduction of Option B+ well before results were available from the START and TEMPRANO trials. Although some people think ‘the ends justify the means’, we conclude that erroneous justifications were initially given in support of Option B+. We identify tensions that remain in light of these results and argue that future strategies would benefit from a community-focused, human rights-based approach.

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HIV cure research

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