20 April 2012: High level meeting on AIDS concludes: “Innovations key to halting mother-to-child transmission of HIV”
Project Mwana in Zambia praised
WASHINGTON DC, 20 April 2012 – 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 per cent 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.
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 (BLC) for a Generation Born HIV Free, 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.
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.”
For further information, please contact:
Mark Maseko, Communication Officer, UNICEF Zambia, Tel: +260/211.374200, ext. 2023, firstname.lastname@example.org