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For every child, end AIDS

Helping mothers improve their children’s chances of growing up free of HIV

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0307/Nesbitt
Maureen Sakala, who was diagnosed with HIV while pregnant, practices preparing prophylactic antiretroviral medicine for her newborn son, Christopher, held by midwife Grace Kayumba at the Chelstone Clinic in Lusaka, Zambia.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 8 May 2009 – Almost every minute of every day, a baby is infected with HIV, passed on by his or her mother during pregnancy, labour or delivery. For many of these babies, early diagnosis is their only chance of survival.

To help address their situation, renowned model and UNICEF UK Ambassador Claudia Schiffer is featured in a new public service announcement on the importance of early testing and treatment to save the lives of infants who have HIV.

VIDEO: Watch now

As Ms. Schiffer notes in the PSA, infants who are diagnosed and treated early on have a far higher chance of survival than those who go untested and untreated. Mothers can also prevent HIV transmission – and protect their own health – by being tested and treated themselves during pregnancy.

Access to care and treatment
Since the launch of the Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS global campaign in 2005, there has been significant progress in scaling up prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV – and in provision of paediatric HIV treatment for babies born with the virus.

In 2007, a third of HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs, to prevent transmission to their children, compared with only 10 per cent in 2004.

Still, far too few pregnant women in the developing world know their HIV status, and too few are tested and treated. Testing the mother and getting treatment to both mother and child is essential for their survival. However, most pregnant women who have been diagnosed with HIV do not have access to essential care and treatment, including ARV therapy.

“Mothers should be able to access the tests and drugs necessary to ensure they can protect their babies and themselves,” said UNICEF Senior Advisor on HIV and AIDS Dr. Doreen Mulenga. “Antiretroviral drugs can substantially reduce the risk of a baby getting the HIV virus from his mother.”

Children at risk
In 2007, almost 400,000 newborn babies were at risk of a tragically shortened life due to infection with HIV. Every day, 740 children under the age of 15 die from AIDS-related illnesses. Without treatment, half of all HIV-positive babies will not live long enough to see their second birthday; a third will not see their first.

Recent evidence has found that mortality levels drop by up to 75 per cent when infants are tested within six weeks of birth and treated during the first 12 weeks of life. But in 2007, only 8 per cent of children born to HIV-positive women were tested before they were two months old.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0316/Nesbitt
Midwife Grace Kayumba teaches Inonge Siamalambo how to administer antiretroviral medicine to her newborn son, Elson, in the maternity ward of the Chelstone Clinic in Lusaka.

Other studies have found that the median age at which children with HIV begin ARV treatment is between the ages of five and nine. In many cases, that is too late for an optimal benefit.

“UNICEF is dedicated to supporting programmes that will ensure that all mothers living with HIV have the chance to protect their babies,” said Dr. Mulenga.

Great strides in Zambia
In Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, the Chelstone Clinic provides vital programmes to treat pregnant women living with HIV and to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Zambia has made great strides in expanding such programmes, which include HIV testing during pregnancy, ARV regimens for HIV-positive pregnant women, prophylactic antibiotics and ARVs for infants exposed to HIV in utero, and early infant diagnosis and treatment.

Christopher was recently born at the Chelstone Clinic. His mother, Maureen Sakala, lives with her mother, siblings and 12 orphaned children – including the children of her brother, who died of AIDS.

Ms. Sakala learned that she was HIV-positive during an antenatal check-up. She participates in the prevention programme at the clinic, where she learned to administer ARVs to Christopher for the first seven days after his birth as a prophylactic measure against HIV infection. His chances of survival are much improved because of Zambia’s success in strengthening maternal, newborn and child health services.

By providing greater access to HIV testing and treatment, UNICEF and its partners around the world are working to protect babies like Christopher, and their mothers, from the devastating impact of AIDS.




Watch a public service announcement featuring model and UNICEF UK Ambassador Claudia Schiffer on early testing and treatment to prevent HIV infection in infants.
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