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Increased services and monitoring needed to keep Asia-Pacific children born free of HIV


© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1501/Giacomo Pirozzi
An HIV-positive baby clutches a teddy bear at a child care centre in Tondo, a neighbourhood of Manila, Philippines. The centre is run by Precious Jewels Ministry, a UNICEF-assisted centre NGO that offers medical assistance, educational activities and counselling for AIDS-affected children, as well as community outreach to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and combat the stigma associated with the disease.

Busan, Republic of Korea, 27 August 2011 – World leaders, including Asia-Pacific governments, launched a global plan in June 2011 to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015. Yet data shows that prevention of parent-to-child HIV transmission (PPTCT) services for pregnant women in the region remains below global averages.
 
Furthermore, less than half the children born to HIV-infected mothers in the region are tested for HIV within the first two months of birth. Without testing and follow up, it will be difficult to monitor infections in newborns or provide the lifesaving drugs needed to keep them alive.

 


Watch "Born free of HIV", a video about how countries in Asia and the Pacific can eliminate HIV infections in newborns.

This week, Asia-Pacific governments, HIV activists and UN officials have gathered at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Busan, Korea to determine how countries can best eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies.
 
While the percentages of HIV infected pregnant women remains low in Asia and the Pacific, the sheer population size in the region, with 69 million pregnancies occurring annually, calls for greater attention and action.
 
According to UN agencies, improved coverage of PPTCT services along with increased systematic monitoring of mothers living with HIV and their babies, and better coordination among health services in the region are critical to eliminating new infections in children.
 
One of the road blocks to achieving this goal is the lack of coordination among health services in countries.  PPTCT spans a complex array of critical services that require follow-up between HIV, maternal, newborn and child health, pediatric, family planning and sexually transmitted infections services.  Experiences in many countries also show that people living with HIV can play an effective role in bringing HIV-positive mothers back to health services for treatment and follow-up testing for their babies.
 
“To reach the goal of zero new infections among children by 2015, national health services and communities need to work together,” says Steven Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. “By coordinating efforts, not only will lives be saved and HIV transmission to children be halted, but national health systems will be strengthened as well.”


© UNICEF/NYHQ1998-1166/Shehzad Noorani, Thailand
Sina [NAME CHANGED], who is HIV-positive, holds the hand of her youngest daughter. Sina found out about her HIV status when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter. She contracted HIV from her husband, who often visited commercial sex workers. He died immediately after the baby's birth.
 
 
Preventing women from becoming infected with HIV in the first place remains the best strategy to eliminate HIV infections among children. In 2009, an estimated 22,000 children in the Asia-Pacific region were newly infected with HIV.  Without proper monitoring, many of the children infected at birth will not be treated. Without treatment, about half of these children will die before their second birthday.
 
“While most countries in the region are working to scale up prevention of parent-to-child HIV transmission services, a lack of critical monitoring means they do not know how many children born to HIV-positive mothers are free of HIV and how many are infected,” said Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific.
 
“Improved monitoring, especially through strong data management and follow-up, will go a long way towards our ultimate goal of having zero new infections among the region’s children,” she added.
 
Data from 2008 shows that 21 per cent of women globally received an HIV test. In Asia this falls to just 12 per cent. Furthermore, treatment of HIV positive pregnant women with anti-retroviral (ART) therapies, while improving, is still critically low. While in Malaysia, 94 per cent of HIV positive pregnant women receive ART, that number drops to 26 per cent in India, 11 per cent in Papua New Guinea and 10 per cent in Lao PDR.


In November 2010,the UN Task Force for PPTCT for the East Asia-Pacific Region developed a framework for the eliminating parent-to-child transmission of HIV. This framework will be the centre of PPTCT discussion during ICAAP with governments looking to adapt it to national strategies for ending HIV infections among children by 2015.
 
By preventing new HIV infections in women of reproductive age, providing high-quality, coordinated, antenatal care and family planning services to women, identifying and treating pregnant women living with HIV, and providing follow-up and appropriate treatment for babies, Asia-Pacific countries can achieve the goal of zero new HIV infections among the region’s children. 
 
 
***
 
Note to editors: Asia-Pacific is home to nearly 5 million HIV infected people, with the second-highest estimated HIV burden in the world after sub-Saharan Africa. The region’s relatively low HIV prevalence notwithstanding, it translates into a substantial number and portion of the global HIV burden.
 
 
For more information, please contact:
 
UNAIDS -        Beth Magne-Watts, Regional Communication Advisor, +662-680-4127, magnewattsb@unaids.org
 
UNICEF -         Geoffrey Keele, Regional Communication Specialist, +662-356-9407, gkeele@unicef.org

 

 
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