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UN taskforce meets to address infant infection with HIV/AIDS

BANGKOK, May 10 –  UNICEF will convene tomorrow the UN Regional Taskforce Meeting on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

More than 700,000 children under 15 are infected worldwide with HIV/AIDS every year, almost all through vertical transmission of the virus from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breast feeding. As the epidemic spreads in Asia and the Pacific, the number of children infected is rising. Years of hard-won progress in child survival are set to be reversed.

The Regional Taskforce Meeting, which will be held from 11-13 May at the Pathumwan Princess in Bangkok, will consider cutting-edge scientific research as well as best practices from the region and strategies to meet the target of halving the proportion of infected infants set at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS in 2001.  Governments, NGOs, and UN agencies from 16 countries will attend (Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the US and Viet Nam).

Vital issues surrounding access to treatment, care and support for infected and vulnerable women and children include:

  • Denial of basic rights to HIV-positive children, particularly the rights to life and to schooling. Parents often decide not to treat their children due to fatalistic assumptions about death and a desire to prevent their children from pointless suffering. Children are also stigmatized and prevented from attending school. Exclusion from classes is almost universal for children with symptomatic AIDS. The meeting will also discuss how to ensure adequate attention to treatment for HIV-infected young children as part of the WHO 3 by 5 initiative, which aims to secure anti-retroviral therapy for 50 per cent of those who need it by the end of 2005.
  • Access to anti-retroviral drugs. In many countries in the region, the majority of births take place at home, and access to antenatal and post-natal care, including counselling and HIV/AIDS prevention/treatment services is limited. There is a need for greater awareness and capacity among governments, health professionals and communities if the UNGASS goal of making services for the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV available to 80 per cent of pregnant women by 2010 is to be met.
  •  Women’s participation in decision making. It is vital that women have greater input into decisions that affect their lives if uptake of existing voluntary and confidential testing and counselling services is to be increased, and if access to treatment is to be ensured for the most vulnerable.
  • The involvement of men. Without support from men, particularly husbands, women are less likely to access testing, counselling and treatment services, or to adhere to treatment regimes for themselves and their children.
  • Voluntary and confidential counselling and testing. Since most women are unaware of their HIV status or of the major ways in which HIV can be transmitted, counselling and testing are also an important part of prevention. However, due to the stigma and fear that surround HIV, a lack of support for women and the complexity of treatment and feeding guidelines, such counselling must be of high quality if it is to be useful or to attract widespread use.
  • Scaling up prevention and treatment. While several countries in the region have started implementing programs, in many cases coverage is still limited and urgent scaling up of interventions is needed.

Although service delivery in resource poor settings presents considerable challenges, simple cost-effective strategies exist to reduce the spread of the epidemic and its effect on children.  For example, the chance of infection for a child born to an HIV-positive mother is 35 per cent without intervention, but anti-retroviral treatment costing as little as US$10 can halve that chance.

The Meeting will consider lessons to be learned from success stories in the region. In India, which is home to 11 per cent of all people infected with HIV, significant investment, strong leadership and the mobilization of diverse partnerships have resulted in greatly increased awareness as well as access to and use of testing, counselling and prevention services. Infection rates among infants in project areas have fallen significantly.

In China, serious efforts are underway to scale up prevention and treatment services as a matter of considerable urgency. With UNICEF assistance, the government and other partners are making great strides towards increasing awareness and access to anti-retroviral drugs, counselling and other core components of a successful strategy for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

The meeting will provide a unique opportunity for the participants to study the successes and challenges of different countries in the region and consider how to apply these in their own settings.

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For more information and interviews, please contact

Robert Few, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific
Tel: 662 356 9499 ext. 9518, Mobile: 661 746 3048


 

 

 

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