High level meeting on AIDS concludes: "Innovations key to halting mother-to-child transmission of HIV"
WASHINGTON DC, April 20, 2012 – HIV experts, business leaders, aid agencies, and ambassadors of 22 priority countries home to 90% of new HIV infections among children, today agreed that the surest way to halt the spread of the deadly virus from mother to child was through strategic innovations.
The High Level Meeting on Innovation for Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT) of HIV comes in the lead up to the XIX International AIDS conference scheduled for July this year, and against the backdrop of dramatic reductions in new HIV infections among children.
Globally, new infections fell from 550,000 in 2001 to 390,000 in 2010. Nearly half of pregnant women living with HIV across the world now receive antiretroviral (ARV) medicines to prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn children.
Speaking at the meeting, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said more must still be done.
“The costs of prevention are relatively low, and the costs of inaction are unspeakably high,” Lake said. “To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must reach every child and every mother.”
Rates of mother to child transmission of HIV—which occurs when a woman passes the virus to her baby during pregnancy, labour, or breastfeeding—are being steadily reduced due to innovative approaches in country after country.
In his remarks, Dr Paul De Lay Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), highlighted the successes so far in reversing the spread of the epidemic, but said the struggle was not over.
“New HIV infections in children have reduced by 30% since 2002 and we believe that by 2015 children everywhere can be born free of HIV,” De Lay said. “This new global plan is realistic, it is achievable and it is driven by the most affected countries.”
The meeting showcased several innovative approaches, including Project Mwana in Zambia, a collaboration among the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners, which uses mobile technologies to halve the time taken to receive HIV test results.
In the 22 priority countries, the number of mothers and babies receiving ARV treatment is growing steadily. However, barriers such as stigma and geographical remoteness continue to prevent many from undergoing testing and treatment.
In general, children lag behind adults in terms of access to services. Mozambique has made notable progress, however only 19 per cent of children younger than 15 years old with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy by 2010. And while just over half of pregnant women living with HIV were receiving ARVs by 2010, there is still a long way to go to achieve the Global Plan target of reaching 95% of pregnant women by 2015.Attendees at the High Level Meeting included representatives of UNAIDS and PEPFAR, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which together co-chair the Global Steering Group on EMTCT. In addition to UNICEF’s Lake, other heads of agencies on the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Team on Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission were also present, along with members of the Business Leadership Council for a Generation Born HIV Free (BLC), a private sector group formed to support the UNAIDS “Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015”.
John Megrue speaking on behalf of the BLC noted: “The BLC is eager to make sure that the private sector can contribute in new and innovative ways.”
The April meeting is to be followed by a leadership forum on “Innovation for the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission” on 22 July in Washington DC, which will showcase technologies and approaches by individual countries to accelerate results, especially within the most disadvantaged communities.
Charles Lyons, President and CEO of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation,said, “With increased country-level leadership, political prioritization, and dedicated resources, we can make the push towards eliminating new cases of HIV and AIDS in our children.”
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