With an estimated 930,000 new HIV infections in Asia and the Pacific last year, United Nations agencies have called for urgent efforts to prevent the escalating spread of the virus and reduce mortality by better integrating HIV prevention, treatment and care into maternal and newborn health services.
“Linking HIV-prevention efforts with reproductive health care can strengthen and improve access to both,” the HIV/AIDS Adviser for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Chaiyos Kunanusont, told the first Asia-Pacific Joint Forum currently underway in Subang, Malaysia.
“Millions of women who don’t know their HIV status have an unmet need for effective contraception. Integrated services would enable them to protect themselves and also reduce HIV transmission to their children.”
The Forum brings together health professionals, government officials, people living with HIV, and civil society groups from 22 countries.
With 60 per cent of the world’s population living in the region, many in countries with a high proportion of people between the ages of 15 and 25, there is an urgent need to scale up HIV prevention, treatment and care efforts and provide better reproductive health services. Due to inadequate maternal and child health services, many countries also report high maternal and infant mortality, especially during newborns’ first month of life.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) noted that although efforts in many countries to scale up prevention of parent-to-child transmission and roll out access to HIV treatment are underway, they can only succeed if primary health care systems are strengthened, especially by improving outreach and referral services to those most in need.
“Many countries in Asia and the Pacific already have national guidelines in place for the prevention of parent-to-child transmission. Many countries have trained health workers and are introducing treatment,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Regional Director Richard Bridle said. “The challenge remains how we better link these efforts to prevent disease and improve nutrition to provide a holistic package of services for mothers and their children.”
At the conference, which was jointly organized by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), delegates are also promoting a four-pronged strategy for the prevention of primary HIV infection in mothers and young children, including providing medicines to lower the risk that HIV will pass to the baby.