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Major Increase in Services Needed for Pregnant HIV-Positive Women to Stop Virus Being Passed to Children

On World AIDS Day UNICEF and WHO Convene High Level Partners Forum to Plan Way Forward in Worst Affected Countries

 ABUJA, Nigeria, 30 Nov 2005 – The number of children who become HIV positive every year could be more than halved if pregnant women living with HIV received comprehensive services including anti-retroviral drugs, UNICEF said today. But less than 10 per cent of women who need these services are getting them.

Currently, more than 600,000 children are estimated to become infected with HIV each year, over 90 per cent of them because they are born to mothers infected with the virus.

On World AIDS Day UNICEF, WHO and other partners called for far greater access to preventive services for pregnant women living with HIV. Key allies in the battle against AIDS are meeting here this week to jump start efforts toward achieving the global target of 80 per cent of pregnant women in need of services receiving them by 2010. At the current rate of progress this target, set by the UN at the General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001, will not be met, hampering efforts toward achieving the millennium development goal of halting and reversing HIV/AIDS by 2015.

“Hundreds of thousands of children are needlessly born with HIV every year, and many of them die in the first year of life. Yet effective interventions exist,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman. “We can dramatically reduce the number of children infected by HIV by providing these services to mothers.”

The High Level Global Partner Forum will bring together 140 experts from international organizations and delegations from 27 countries to share best practices and define future directions for accelerating expansion of coverage in countries that most need it.  The forum will also share the latest science on the effectiveness of different delivery approaches, the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs in reducing the transmission of HIV and the feasibility of providing long-term anti-retroviral treatment to keep mothers healthy.

In 1998, an Interagency Task Team comprising UNICEF, WHO, UNAIDS and UNFPA initiated pilot projects to demonstrate the feasibility of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes in 11 high-burden countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Since then significant progress has been made. Over 100 countries have implemented PMTCT programmes, 16 of which offer services nationwide.

However most of the worst affected countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, continue to suffer from extremely low rates of service coverage. Of the 11 original pilot countries, only Botswana has achieved national coverage with at least fifty per cent of HIV positive pregnant women receiving services by the end of 2004.

The biggest challenges to expanding PMTCT services in resource poor settings are weak health systems and a shortage of health care workers and supplies.  In addition, communities have not been adequately involved in supporting programme implementation.

Funding for AIDS from donor governments has increased significantly in recent years. However children have yet to receive their fair share. One key recommendation to donor governments will be to earmark AIDS funding specifically for programmes aimed at children. Following the meeting, technical assistance will be provided to governments to formulate national plans of action. Governments will be encouraged to integrate PMTCT programmes into routine family and child health services.

Expanding access to PMTCT services is one of the four pillars of the “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign, launched by UNICEF, UNAIDS and partners on October 25th, with the ultimate goal of an HIV free generation. Progress on the other pillars- primary prevention, pediatric treatment and protection of children affected by AIDS- are also vital to reverse the impact of the disease.

For more information contact:

Gerrit Beger, UNICEF Media 234 803 6590388
Christine Jaulmes, UNICEF Media  234 803 4020 879
Oliver Phillips, UNICEF Media NY 212 326 7583





This special four-part series on HIV/AIDS in Botswana was reported by UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe and produced by David McKenzie:

Part One: Botswana: A model and a warning

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Part Two: Support for affected children

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Part Three: Prevention of mother-to-child transmission

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Part Four: Treatment for HIV-positive children

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(Real player)

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