Negotiating International Health Policy on a Local Level: HIV Positive Women and their Experiences with Infant Feeding in Vancouver, Canada

Medical research currently debates what infant feeding method should be recommended to HIV positive mothers. Studies indicate that antiretroviral treatment effectively reduces transmission of HIV through breast milk by approximately at least two-thirds by lowering the amount of HIV in the blood. However, Canadian health policy strongly discourages breastfeeding regardless of a woman’s HIV viral status after giving birth, and encourages formula feeding as the alternative. Avoiding breastfeeding may eliminate the risk of HIV transmission, but is “replacement feeding” with formula the safest most viable option? Francoise Guigné is interviewing physicians, health care providers, and educators, and women living with HIV in Saskatoon, a city reknown for breastfeeding promotion, about their recommendations and experiences with formula feeding. Preparing formula can be expensive and complicated. Guigné is assessing the social, cultural, economic and emotional challenges HIV-positive women face with replacement feeding, and, the international flows of health knowledge that doctors, health care providers and educators use to address these challenges. Compared to breastfed babies, formula fed infants suffer higher rates of diarrhea, respiratory, ear and other ailments. HIV-positive mothers must weigh these health risks against the risk of acquiring HIV through breastfeeding. Guigné’s research aims to identify and address any gaps in support services for HIV-positive mothers by improving the support networks, medical resources and counselling services currently available to them.