Cuba first country to eradicate mother-to-child HIV transmission: WHO

Havana, July 1 (IANS) Cuba on Tuesday became the first country in the world to eradicate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to newborn, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO announced in a press release that it validated Cuba’s success in eliminating mother-to-child transmission.

“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.

“This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation,” she added.

Cuba celebrated getting the recognition from the international agency.

“It is a historic day for the prevention of HIV and AIDS and for progress towards a generation free of this burden both nationwide and around the world,” Xinhua cited Cuba’s state daily Granma as saying.

“This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere. It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.

Every year, an estimated 1.4 million women around the globe living with HIV become pregnant. Untreated, they have a 15-45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding, according to the WHO.

The good news is that the risk drops to just over 1 percent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur.

The number of children born annually with HIV has almost halved since 2009, down from 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 in 2013, but much more needs to be done “to reach the global target of less than 40,000 new child infections per year by 2015”, the WHO said.

Nearly 1 million pregnant women worldwide are infected with syphilis annually, which can result in early fetal loss and stillbirth, neonatal death, low-birth-weight infants and serious neonatal infections.

Thanks to Cuba’s “equitable, accessible and universal health system”, infected pregnant women are ensured key early access to prenatal care, and HIV and syphilis testing for them and their partners, the WHO said.

Cuba succeeded in lowering the HIV transmission rate to 1.85 percent, below the 2 percent target rate countries in the region in conjunction with the WHO and other health agencies had been aiming for.

“Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis,” said Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organisation.



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