UNICEF urges big boost in services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission

30 November 2005

The number of children becoming HIV positive every year – some 600,000 – could be more than halved if infected pregnant women received comprehensive services including anti-retroviral drugs, but less than 10 per cent are now getting them, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

The number of children becoming HIV positive every year – some 600,000 – could be more than halved if infected pregnant women received comprehensive services including anti-retroviral drugs, but less than 10 per cent are now getting them, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

“Hundreds of thousands of children are needlessly born with HIV every year, and many of them die in the first year of life. Yet effective interventions exist,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said on the eve of World AIDS Day. “We can dramatically reduce the number of children infected by HIV by providing these services to mothers.”

Together with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, UNICEF called for far greater access to preventive services. Key allies in the battle are meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, this week at the High Level Global Partner Forum to jump start efforts toward achieving the global target of 80 per cent of pregnant women in need of services receiving them by 2010.

At the current rate this target, set by the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001, will not be met, hampering efforts toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halting and reversing HIV/AIDS by 2015.

The Forum brings together 140 experts from international organizations and delegations from 27 countries to share best practices and define future directions for accelerating expansion of coverage in countries that most need it.

It will share the latest science on the effectiveness of different delivery approaches, the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs in reducing the transmission of HIV and the feasibility of providing long-term anti-retroviral treatment to keep mothers healthy.

The biggest challenges to expanding Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes in most of the worst affected countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are weak health systems and a shortage of health care workers and supplies. Communities also have not been adequately involved in supporting programme implementation.

Although funding for AIDS from donor governments has increased significantly in recent years, children have yet to receive their fair share. One key recommendation to donor governments will be to earmark AIDS funding specifically for programmes aimed at children.

Also today, WHO praised Lesotho’s plans to offer confidential and voluntary testing to everybody in an effort to dramatically increase access to treatment and prevention in the small southern African kingdom, where one in three adults is HIV-positive, one of the highest infection rates in the world.

“Lesotho's initiative is an excellent example of this global trend towards expanding and integrating prevention and treatment efforts,” Jim Yong Kim, Director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department said, citing the growing availability of affordable treatment in developing countries in gradually transforming the fight against AIDS.

“Many nations, like Lesotho, are now empowered to develop exciting, bold programmes that directly confront the epidemic. The impact on prevention will be tangible as more communities break the silence surrounding the disease and begin to speak openly about the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives.”

Dr. Kim noted that moving towards universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care and rolling back the epidemic will require developing and implementing increasingly innovative approaches.

“Current prevention, treatment and care efforts are too episodic, ad hoc, and lack the intensity, pace and rhythm needed to make an impact,” he said. “But if we harness our efforts and employ innovative approaches as these nations are doing, there is no reason that we cannot turn back the tide of this epidemic.”

 

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