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Early HIV Testing and Treatment Can Save Newborn Lives, New U.N. Report Released on World AIDS Day States

NEW YORK-KYIV, 1 December 2008 – Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV, according to a report released today by four United Nations agencies.

The report, titled Children and AIDS: Third stocktaking report, was jointly prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and released on World Aids Day.

“Without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday,” said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “Survival rates are up to 75 per cent higher for HIV-positive newborns who are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks.”

However, in 2007, less than 10 per cent of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were tested for HIV before they were two months old.  The report advocates for increased testing to enable appropriate treatments to begin as early as possible.

"Today, no infant should have to die of AIDS," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. "We know how to prevent these tragic deaths, but now we need to focus on strengthening our healthcare systems to ensure that all mothers and children receive treatment as early as possible.”

Far too few pregnant women know their HIV status. In 2007, only 18 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were given an HIV test, and of those who tested positive, only 12 per cent were further screened to determine the stage of HIV disease and the type of treatment they require. 

“The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is not only effective, but also a human right,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot. “We are seeing good progress in many countries, especially in parts of Africa, but we need to significantly scale up HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women.”

The report also recommends increased access to tests assessing immune functions of HIV-positive mothers to determine their stage of HIV disease and provide a basis for decisions about appropriate treatment that addresses their own health needs and reduces the chance of the virus being passed to their offspring.

“Ukraine has the worst AIDS epidemic in Europe and Central Asia, with an estimated 440,000 people aged 15-49 living with HIV/AIDS - 1.63 per cent of the adult population”, said Tetyana Tarasova, UNICEF Ukraine HIV/AIDS Officer. “Three regions - Kiev, Odessa and Donetsk - have recently crossed the threshold of 1 per cent HIV infection among pregnant women, indicating the increasing generalisation of the epidemic”.

In Ukraine the epidemic is concentrated mainly among injecting drug users (IDUs), female sex workers (FSWs), men who have sex with men (MSM) and prisoners. The recent increase in heterosexual transmission among IDUs, sex workers and their partners raises considerable concern about the potential for the epidemic to “bridge” into the general population.

Since the initiation of the first national PMTCT programme in 2001 the rate of transmission of HIV from mother to child reduced from 27 per cent to 7 per cent between 2000 and 2006. However, the number of children infected by transmission of the virus from mother to child continues to increase as more and more women are infected: on average each year by 20-30 per cent. HIV prevalence among pregnant women was 0.34 per cent in 2007, which is among the highest in Europe.

In 2007, some 45 per cent of all HIV infections were in women, 60 per cent of them under 25 years of age, while in 1997 women comprised only 11 per cent of those infected. HIV prevalence among pregnant women in 2007 was 0.34 per cent in 2007, which is among the highest in Europe.

As a result of the above, the number of HIV-positive children is increasing. To date, close to 18,000 children have been born to HIV-positive mothers, of whom 10,200 are HIV negative. Some 5,500 under 18 months old are awaiting confirmation of their HIV status, while 1,877 are HIV-positive and 244 children have already died of AIDS (23 of them in 2007). Today 1,200 children are provided with antiretroviral treatment in Ukraine.

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NOTE TO EDITOR:

Full text of the Report: http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_46585.html

B-roll is available at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef

About Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign: The report, Children and AIDS: Third stocktaking report is the third review of progress on how AIDS affects children and young people since Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS was launched in October 2005 by UNICEF, UNAIDS and other partners with a commitment to be accountable for results. Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS is a call to action around the impact of HIV and AIDS on children. It focuses on the needs of children in four key areas, known as the “Four Ps”: preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, providing paediatric treatment for children infected with the virus, preventing new infections among adolescents and young people, and protecting and supporting children affected by HIV and AIDS.
About UNICEF: UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. www.unicef.org

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For further information, please contact:

Veronika Vashchenko, Communication Officer, UNICEF Ukraine, vvashchenko@unicef.org, +38.044.254.2450

www.unicef.org/ukraine

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