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UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham inspired by the work being done in South Africa to prevent babies being born with HIV

Per–Anders Pettersson for UNICEF via Getty Images
© Per–Anders Pettersson for UNICEF via Getty Images
UNICEF Ambassador David Beckham meets one of the mums, Tamara, who is living with HIV, and her three year old son Sesiphi, who was born free from HIV thanks to the treatment provided by the UNICEF supported mothers2mothers centre.

Thursday 3rd December, Cape Town - During a busy visit to South Africa this week, David Beckham took time out of his schedule to fulfil his Ambassadorial role for the world’s leading children’s organisation UNICEF and highlight the progress that has been made around the world preventing mother to child transmission of HIV.

In the week of World AIDS Day (Tuesday 1st December 2009), David Beckham visited a UNICEF supported programme in a clinic in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa where he met and talked to pregnant young women and new mums who are living with HIV. The UNICEF supported ‘Mothers to Mothers’ (M2M) programme provides HIV positive pregnant women and new mums with vital education and support that helps to prevent them passing HIV to their unborn babies. It also gives them the knowledge they need to improve their own health and that of their babies.

Beckham was introduced to the work of the programme by Dr. Mitch Besser, the founder of M2M, who told him about the ground breaking care and support that the clinic’s patients are receiving. He met 25 year old Tamara, an HIV positive mother who received treatment at the centre and now supports other young women in the same situation. Tamara started her treatment at the clinic when she was five months pregnant, and thanks to the testing, counselling and medication she received her three year old son Sesiphi was born free from HIV.

Almost every minute of every day, a baby is born with HIV somewhere in the world, passed on by their mother during pregnancy, labour and delivery. The greatest tragedy however, is that with simple inexpensive treatment, mother-to-child transmission of HIV is almost entirely preventable.

Since the launch of UNICEF’s global campaign, ‘Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS’ in 2005, there has been significant progress in scaling up care and treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). In 2004, just 9% of women in need of the treatment received it. Today up to 45% access the services which include HIV testing and counselling for women and their partners, access to anti-retroviral medicine for mother and baby, safe birthing practices and advice on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

In South Africa progress is particularly evident, with 73% of mothers who need it now receiving treatment for themselves and their babies, compared to just 15% in 2004.

Per–Anders Pettersson for UNICEF via Getty Images
© Per–Anders Pettersson for UNICEF via Getty Images
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham meets three year old Sesiphi, who’s mother is living with HIV. Sesiphi was born free from HIV thanks to the treatment that was provided to his mother at the UNICEF supported mothers2mothers centre.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, David Beckham said, “It gives me such hope that in a country like South Africa where over 5 million people are living with HIV, this inspiring work is being done by UNICEF and their partners to help prevent the virus passing from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. The solution is cheap and it’s simple and can help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year. Children have a right to be as healthy as possible and I can think of no better thing than ensuring babies are born free from HIV.”

“If all the women who needed it received treatment to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies, a generation of children free from the virus could be within reach. Now, everyone needs to come together to make sure this happens. I urge everyone to support this work and help save the lives of babies.”
Beckham also heard about the important role of fathers in the work of the Mothers to Mothers programme and clinic.  He said:

“Today I met twenty five year old Tamara, who is living with HIV. Against the odds, she has become a counsellor and support worker for other women in the same situation. She told me what’s needed now is for men to get more involved in supporting their pregnant wives living with the virus. She said too few husbands and male partners join their wives at the clinic and that more men need to support their partners to get the treatment and care they need. I hope that I can do my bit to help promote this message from Tamara and that men out there hear this and do their bit.”

Beckham finished by saying “The young women I met today came forward to tell their stories and talk openly to me. I admire and respect them for trying to break the stigma here and hope that others begin to do the same. I hope that my visit gave them some hope and can send a message to others that stigma around this virus needs to end now.”

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