Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis according to an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) on 30 June 2016.
Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said,“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible. This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.”
According to the report on the WHO website, every year, globally, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Untreated, they have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. However, that risk drops to just over 1% if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur. The number of children born annually with HIV has almost halved since 2009 – down from 400 000 in 2009 to 240 000 in 2013. But intensified, efforts will be required to reach the global target of less than 40 000 new child infections per year by 2015.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS said, “This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere. It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children.”
WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been working with partners in Cuba and other countries in the Americas since 2010 to implement a regional initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
As part of the initiative, the country has worked to ensure early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both pregnant women and their partners, treatment for women who test positive and their babies, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding. These services are provided as part of an equitable, accessible and universal health system in which maternal and child health programs are integrated with programs for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
WHO validation process
In 2014, WHO and key partners published Guidance on global processes and criteria for validation of elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, which outlines the validation process and the different indicators countries need to meet.
As treatment for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission is not 100% effective, elimination of transmission is defined as a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem.
An international expert mission convened by PAHO/WHO visited Cuba in March 2015 to validate the progress toward the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. During a five-day visit, members visited health centers, laboratories, and government offices throughout the island, interviewing health officials and other key actors. The mission included experts from Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Suriname, the United States of America and Zambia.
The validation process paid particular attention to the upholding of human rights, in order to ensure that services were provided free of coercion and in accordance with human rights principles.
Read the full article on the WHO website.