Top-level UN meeting focuses on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission
NEW YORK, USA, 11 June 2008 – Ninety per cent of the children who become infected with HIV contract the disease from their mothers, and top-level diplomats are conferring at United Nations headquarters today and tomorrow to look at ways to advance prevention of mother-to-child transmission, or PMTCT.
The UN General Assembly is meeting to assess progress on the global response to AIDS and to encourage international leaders to step up their efforts to halt its advance.
PMTCT programs are proven to work. Developed countries that have made them a standard part of maternal and child health care have virtually eliminated new HIV infections in children. Poor and middle-income countries are starting to see similar results.
Quoting the ‘AIDS Stocktaking Report’ released in April of this year, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said that considerable advances had been made in this area since the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign launched in 2005.
‘Great progress in a year’
The report showed that by the end of 2006, 21 countries were on track to meet the target of 80 per cent PMCTC coverage by 2010 – up from only 11 countries in 2005, Ms. Veneman pointed out.
“That’s great progress in a year,” she said at a breakfast meeting attended by, among others, Zambia’s First Lady, Maureen Mwanawasa, and US Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Mark Dybul.
Ms. Veneman noted the recent success of Botswana – a country with one of the world’s highest rates of HIV prevalence rates – where only 7 per cent of children born to infected mothers develop HIV, compared with up to 40 per cent before the PMTCT program began there.
Importance of partners
Ms. Mwanawasa said her country was also starting to see tremendous reductions in maternal and child mortality because of its policy of “zero tolerance to new infections.” The Organisation of African First Ladies is at the forefront of the campaign to reduce transmission from mother to child, she added.
“We have moved from compassion to action,” said Ms. Mwanawasa.
World Health Organisation Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan urged delegates to scale up their HIV response, making sure at the same time that it is sustainable over the long term and builds stronger health systems. She said it was vitally important to work with partners.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” Dr. Chan advised.