First decade - PMTCT and paediatric AIDS
Ensuring no baby is born with HIV is an essential step towards achieving an AIDS-free generation. Over the past two decades, programmes such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, or PMTCT, have received immense attention from national governments, development partners and donor communities around the world, resulting in an increasing number of pregnant women in need having access to antiretroviral treatment, and fewer babies being born with HIV.
As a result, in Eastern and Southern Africa, efforts to eliminate mother-to-child transmission have been scaled up dramatically. In 2011, 72 per cent of pregnant women in need of such services were reached with effective drug regimens, which can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission to less than 5 per cent. However, with 960,000 pregnant women living with HIV in 2011 - that is more than any other region of the world – the need continues to be immense. More than 90 per cent of them reside in just nine countries - South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Ethiopia.
Without effective treatment, more than half of all babies born with HIV will die before their second birthday. Yet, only 33 per cent of children in need of treatment received antiretroviral treatment for the virus. In high-burden countries in Southern Africa, HIV contributes to between 10 and 28 per cent of all deaths among children under five years of age. HIV also contributes to high levels of maternal deaths in ESA, especially in Southern Africa, ranging from 26.8 per cent in Mozambique to 67.3 per cent in Swaziland.
UNICEF in action
With years of investments, achieving an HIV-free generation has finally within reach. UNICEF, together with international, national and civil society partners, is working towards the Global Plan to Eliminate New Infections Among Children by 2015, which aims to ensure that less than 5 per cent of children born to women with HIV are themselves positive, and to reduce the number of new infections among young children by 90 per cent compared to 2009. To this end, UNICEF has set two goals in its strategic plan for Eastern and Southern Africa:
Whether HIV-infected or not, children born to women living with HIV have increased risk of morbidity and mortality. And poverty, isolation and distance from health care facilities can further place them beyond the reach of life-saving care. By making things as simple as possible, UNICEF works to reach more women and children, especially in rural areas where health services are scarce. Offering HIV test that gives rapid result in just a few minutes as part of routine antenatal care for pregnant women is a first step; and providing treatment of “one pill, once per day” as early as possible for those who are tested HIV-positive is a second. Such treatment not only protects the health of the mother living with HIV, but also prevents transmission to her child – in utero, during delivery or during the breastfeeding period.
Another key area for UNICEF is the integration of HIV care, treatment and support with antenatal, postnatal and child health services. Prevention of HIV infection among women of child-bearing age, for example, as well as prevention of unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV can be achieved only if PMTCT services are integrated with maternal, newborn and child health, as well as family planning services. Recent research indicates that antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of HIV transmission within couples by 96 per cent. Therefore, finding innovative ways to engage sexual partners of pregnant women through routine health services, and linking these partners to prevention, treatment, and care will be an important strategy for preventing new infections.
Increased community involvement, mobilization, and engagement is also key, particularly in reducing reduce stigma and discrimination. In addition, UNICEF works together with partners to ensure HIV-exposed children are identified early and provided with follow-up treatment, care and support throughout childhood, and into adolescence and adulthood.
Results for children
1 Cohen, Myron S., et. al., ‘Prevention of HIV-1 Infection with Early Antiretroviral Therapy’, The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 365, no. 6, 11 August 2011, pp. 493–505.
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