UNC study to examine if nutritional supplements protect HIV-positive mothers, infants in Africa

October 08, 2009
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have received a $2.2 million grant to find out if simple nutritional supplements, fortified with micronutrients and essential fats, protect the health of HIV-positive women and their infants after weaning.

Dr. Peggy Bentley

Dr. Peggy Bentley

Margaret “Peggy” Bentley, PhD, professor of nutrition and associate dean for global health in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center, is the study’s principal investigator.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study will use data from the African nation of Malawi. It builds on a growing body of knowledge on the use of such supplements to prevent and treat malnutrition in breastfed children, but the study is the first to examine their use among HIV-infected mothers and their infants.

The low-cost, locally produced supplements contain ground peanuts, dried full cream, vegetable oil and sugar, and are fortified with micronutrients, including vitamins such as B6 and B12 and minerals like iron, selenium and zinc.

Researchers will analyze data, including maternal breastmilk and maternal and infant plasma levels, that were gathered as part of a large randomized breastfeeding intervention trial of HIV-infected women and their infants in Lilongwe, Malawi, called the Breastfeeding, Antiretroviral and Nutrition (BAN) study, run by researchers from UNC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bentley said the Gates-funded project has two primary goals. “This study gives us a unique opportunity to see how beneficial the supplements are when the infants are no longer breastfed. It’s also the first time researchers have been able to assess whether the supplements help HIV-positive mothers stay healthy.”

Bentley said findings from the study could have broad applications to other poor countries, since the supplements are inexpensive, do not require water (reducing the risk of introducing a water-borne disease) and can be modified for a baby’s changing nutritional needs.


More information is available online.

Bentley can be reached at (919) 966-9575 or pbentley@unc.edu.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.