Efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission over the past five years are among the greatest public health achievements of recent times. We are boosting services, finding new ways of delivering care and support, and implementing treatment that can support mothers and prevent children from acquiring HIV. But still too many women, children and adolescents are being left behind.
In order to move forward, we must look at some of the progress, challenges and strategies that can save lives.
Increased access to effective medication for preventing mother-to-child transmission has resulted in groundbreaking progress. Globally, an estimated 1.6 million new HIV infections among children were averted between 2000 and 2015 and, in sub-Saharan Africa from 2009 to 2015, there was a 60 per cent drop. The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been achieved in countries such as Cuba, Belarus and Thailand and we are making huge gains in bridging the treatment gap among children.
But we face major challenges. A shocking one half of the 1.8 million children living with HIV globally did not receive antiretroviral treatment in 2015 and nearly 85 per cent of the 150,000 children newly infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. Gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care resulted in some 110,000 children worldwide dying of AIDS in 2015 – that is 300 every day. We must work to prevent new HIV infections among women and girls, address regional variations in response and ensure timely access to treatment.
We must innovate and learn. Let’s integrate maternal and child health services in populations where children are at risk, and offer testing in nutrition clinics, immunization clinics and children’s wards. Although major efforts are required to improve early infant diagnosis, increased availability and access to point-of-care diagnostics can make a difference. And by utilizing the power of local communities and strengthening links with facilities, we can help people to stay in care, protect children orphaned and affected by HIV/AIDS, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and reach girls, pregnant women and mothers with essential HIV prevention services.