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Innovative Project to Accelerate HIV Treatment Access for Pregnant Women launched in Malawi

© UNICEF Malawi
Treating HIV-positive pregnant women not only keeps them alive and well, but also prevents their babies from acquiring HIV during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.

Lilongwe, MALAWI, 12 February 2013 – New HIV infections in children are decreasing, but eliminating new infections among children requires treating more pregnant women living with HIV. That is the consensus at an international meeting to launch an innovative project to accelerate access to Anti Retroviral drugs for HIV positive pregnant women. Officials from the Ministries of Health from Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Malawi and Uganda are participating.

Treating HIV-positive pregnant women not only keeps them alive and well, but also prevents their babies from acquiring HIV during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Although new infant infections are down from a peak of 550,000 to 330,000 in 2011, much remains to be done to reach the globally-agreed goal of elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015.

“The world is coming close to a tipping point in its fight against the AIDS epidemic,” said Craig McClure, UNICEF’s Chief of HIV/AIDS. “Half of women who need anti-retrovirals to prevent HIV infection to their children and keep themselves alive now have it. We are on the road to ending this epidemic."

World Health Organization encourages countries to consider providing a fixed-dose combination of three antiretroviral drugs for all pregnant women with HIV. Anaecdotal evidence has shown that this ‘one pill daily’ lifelong treatment option offers a simplified approach for health workers. It also protects the mother's health and greatly reduces the risk of transmission to the baby or the mother's sexual partner. 

 “This is a profound intervention that ensures that not only do babies survive free of HIV but their mothers live to see them grow,” said UNICEF’s Malawi’s Representative, Mahimbo Mdoe.

For the 22 countries in which 90% of new infant infections occur, this approach holds great promise. Malawi began implementing the 'one pill daily' treatment regimen in 2011. After only three months of nationwide implementation, the government has seen a greater than five-fold increase in the number of pregnant women enrolled on ART. 

“Option B+ gives a window of hope and of opportunity to address both reduction of transmission of HIV while at the same time addresses the health of the mother as well as protecting the partner,” said Malawi’s Deputy of Health, Ms. Halima Daudi.

The launched project aims to make a rapid shift to this simpler fixed-dose combination in Malawi, building on existing efforts and learning from Malawi’s experience. Led by National Ministries of Health, UNICEF, PEPFAR, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as civil society organizations.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and NORAD, the three-year “Optimizing HIV Treatment Access Among Pregnant Women” project will focus on improving services through better training and support for health workers and improving other aspects of primary health care systems, putting in place systems that can help to keep women and their children within the system.  The project is also collecting better information and using it to reduce delays and complications and to improve service delivery.

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