While it used to be a considerable concern that a pregnant woman with HIV would pass the virus on to her child, that is no longer the case.
In honor of World AIDS Day, global health leaders have made an exciting announcement: the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and several islands in the Caribbean across the Americas have likely eliminated the transmission of HIV from mother to child through careful treatment and intervention — 17 countries and territories in all. The announcement comes from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO), which credits the progress with increased rates of prenatal care, HIV screening, and access to treatment.
Cuba became the first country to officially be certified by WHO to have eliminated mother-to-child, also known as "vertical," transmission over the summer. While it was the first to be certified, other countries, including the U.S., have likely had the same success, but didn't bother to use the time and resources to go through the WHO's process to prove it.
"The countries of the Americas have made tremendous efforts to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, cutting new infections by half since 2010," PAHO/WHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a news release. "We can do more to protect mothers and children to achieve a generation free of AIDS."
Though this type of transmission has been declared eliminated, it doesn't mean it never happens, it's just much more rare.
Eliminating mother-to-child transmissions are part of the United Nation's campaign to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, that has killed 39 million people since it began. While it's an incredible accomplishment, it's only one facet in the comprehensive approach that may finally bring AIDS to an end.
"If we want to end HIV by 2030, we need to accelerate action for prevention and access to treatment, focusing on key populations and increasing investment and resources," added Marcos Espinal, who serves as director of PAHO/WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis. "We need to expand access to care without discrimination, as well as to a package of prevention measures for reducing new infections, ensuring timely detection of cases, and treating everyone."
There are a number of ways for a pregnant mother to transmit HIV to her baby. It can happen if the mother is not getting treated during pregnancy, during delivery, or by breastfeeding her baby after birth. If the mother gets treated with medication throughout pregnancy, opts against breastfeeding, and precautions are taken during delivery, there is less than a 2 percent chance that the virus will be transmitted.
For some perspective on how monumental this is, an HIV-positive mother who is taking the necessary precautions is more likely to have a baby with Down's syndrome than HIV.
In addition to preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child, PAHO/WHO also claim that syphilis transmission has also been eliminated. For infants, a syphilis infection can result in blindness, deafness, facial deformities and, very commonly, death.
The success of reducing transmission from mother to child in the Americas serves as a beacon of hope to those living in areas hardest hit by HIV, promising a healthier future for all.
Celebrate World AIDS Day by passing along this incredible news to a friend!