HIV and the Church

Posted by Jake Johnson

Read the full story from the World Health Organization here.

Cuba has become the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “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” she added.

Around the globe, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant each year. If left untreated, these women have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding. However, that risk drops to just over 1% if the proper HIV medication is given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur.

Both WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have 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. Efforts include early access to prenatal care, HIV testing for both pregnant women and their partners, treatment for those who test positive, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding. In addition, maternal and child health programs are integrated with programs for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

“Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV," said PAHO Director, Dr Carissa F. Etienne.

There have been major efforts in recent years to ensure that women get the treatment they need to keep themselves well and their children free from HIV and a number of countries are now poised to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

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.

Between 2009 and 2013, the proportion of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries receiving effective antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of the virus to their children doubled. This amounts to 7 out of 10 women in these countries receiving the treatment they need to prevent transmission to their children. Among the 22 countries which account for 90% of new HIV infections, eight have already reduced new HIV infections among children by over 50% since 2009 and another four are close to meeting this mark.

Worldwide, the number of children born with HIV each year dropped from 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 in 2013. Though in order to reach the global target of no more than 40,000 new child infections by 2015, health officials say increased efforts will be needed around the world.

The local church can play an important role in testing, counseling and care. Learn more here or email to get involved in Getting to Zero.

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