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High Level Meeting on EMTCT

Ambassador Siwela at high level meeting on AIDS
© Liz Lynch - 04/2012 - D.C.
Zambia's Ambassador to the USA Sheila Siwela with Katherine Bliss of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

High level meeting on AIDS concludes: “Innovations key to halting mother-to-child transmission of HIV”
Project Mwana in Zambia Praised

WASHINGTON DC, April 20, 2012 (UNICEF) – HIV experts, business leaders, aid agencies, and ambassadors of 22 priority countries – including Zambia -- have 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.”

The Ambassador of Zambia to the United States, H.E. Sheila Siwela, co-chaired the meeting with Mr. Lake. The briefing emphasized innovative technological and programmatic approaches that are crucial to preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus that can happen during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, if not treated. Unique approaches that address mother-to-child transmission in these priority countries such as Project Mwana in Zambia were also showcased. Project Mwana is a collaboration between the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and other partners, which uses mobile technologies to dramatically shorten the time taken to receive HIV test results.

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.”

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 Zambia:

• 84.5 percent of HIV infected pregnant women received antiretroviral to reduce risk of mother to child transmission of HIV in 2011;
• 91.6 per cent of pregnant women received HIV testing and counselling in 2011;
• Without EMTCT interventions, an estimated 80,000 out of 500,000 annual deliveries are exposed to HIV. 28,000 are born HIV positive annually;
• 63 percent of women and 46 percent of men are aware that HIV can be transmitted through breastfeeding and that the risk of MTCT can be reduced by taking drugs;
• An estimated 120,000 children under 15 years are living with HIV;
• At the end of 2011, only 30,700 children in need have access to antiretroviral therapy.

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.
 
It is widely known that the know-how exists.  The challenge is to make it accessible to all countries. The high-level meeting closed with an agreement to promote sharing of experiences among countries to scale-up innovations.

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.” 

About UNICEF
UNICEF works in 190 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. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org and www.unicef.org/zambia. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
For further information, please contact:
Patrick Slavin, Chief, Communications, UNICEF Zambia, Tel: +260/211.374200, ext.2020, pslavin@unicef.org or Mark Maseko, Communication Officer, UNICEF Zambia, Tel: +260/211.374200, ext. 2023, mmaseko@unicef.org

 

 
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