Children and HIV and AIDS

The First Decade of Life

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2928/Nesbitt
UNICEF supports the expansion of PMTCT services into rural areas where many remote communities have limited access to health clinics.

The facts

In 2011,

  • About 900 children were newly infected with HIV per day, over 90% occuring in Sub-Saharan Africa.  
  •  57% of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral drugs to prevent them from transmitting the virus to their babies.
  • Globally, only 35% of infants born to mothers living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received an HIV test within the first two months of life.
  • Only 28% of children under 15 living with HIV in low- and middle- income countries received antiretroviral treatment for the virus, as compared with 54% for adults. 

What is the response?

Ensuring that no baby is born with HIV is an essential step towards achieving an AIDS-free generation. An intervention known as “prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” or PMTCT, provides drugs, counselling and psychological support to help mothers safeguard their infants against the virus. Ensuring PMTCT is provided to all women that need it is our most effective way to eliminating new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive by 2015. As increasingly more pregnant women living with HIV receive access to antiretroviral treatment, fewer children are being newly infected with HIV.

Whether HIV-infected or not, children born to women living with HIV,  have increased risk of morbidity and mortality. And poverty, isolation and distance from health care facilities can place them beyond the reach of life-saving care. Partners must also work together so that HIV exposed children are identified early and provided with follow-up treatment, care and support throughout childhood, and into adolescence and adulthood.

What is UNICEF doing?

By  making things as simple as possible, UNICEF aims to reach more women and children, even in a rural clinic with no doctors. Offering an HIV test that gives a rapid result in just a few minutes as part of the first visit for routine antenatal care for pregnant women is a first step. Then, for women who test HIV positive, offering them treatment – “one pill, once per day” – starting as early as possible – is key. This approach puts the health of the mother at the centre. Treatment not only protects the health of the mother living with HIV, but also prevents transmission to her child – in utero, during delivery or during the breastfeeding period. And treatment also prevents sexual transmission among discordant couples – where one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative. To ensure that children living with the virus receive the care they need, UNICEF also works to scale up early infant diagnosis and provide simplified HIV treatment for children.

To do this, UNICEF is focused on integrating HIV care, treatment and support for women living with HIV and their families into strengthened antenatal, postnatal and child health platforms including at the local level.





By 2015,

  • Reduce the number of new childhood HIV infections by 90%.
  • Reduce the number of HIV-related maternal deaths by 50%.
  • Provide antiretroviral therapy for all infected children.


ANC: Antenatal care

ARV: Antiretroviral

DBS: Dried Blood Spot

PMTCT: Prevention of Mother-to-child transmission

MTCT: Mother-to-child transmission

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