Thailand has become the first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, an incredible achievement considering the country's difficult history with the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized the country's achievement on June 7. In addition to HIV, Thailand also stopped mother-to-child transmission of syphilis.
When a woman with HIV becomes pregnant, there is up to a 45 percent chance that the virus will be transmitted to the child if there is no medical intervention. That risk drops to nearly zero if the mother takes antiretroviral medications during pregnancy, delivery, and while breastfeeding. Children may also receive HIV medication for six weeks after birth.
Government officials in Thailand have been making a dedicated effort to reduce the overall impact of HIV since 2000 and this certification is a welcome indicator that their efforts are working. The progress is largely thanks to social programs that provide free medication for HIV-positive mothers. An estimated 98 percent of women who need the medication now have access to it.
In providing women with the medications they need, the Thai government isn't only making sure they don't spread the virus to their children, but it also helps keep the mothers alive so they can raise their children. There are many orphanages in Thailand that care for HIV-positive children whose parents have died from AIDS.
An important thing to note is that even though the mother-to-child transmission rate has been declared "eliminated," it doesn't mean that it happens zero times. What it does mean is that it the transmission occurs so rarely that it doesn't pose a general public health risk. Fewer than 2 percent of women spread the virus to their children.
The strides the country has made are incredible. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of cases where HIV was transmitted had a 90 percent reduction, from 1,000 to 85. Additionally, the number of new HIV cases per year has also dropped more than 87 percent in that same time frame. AIDS-related deaths have dropped 56 percent between 2005-2013.
Officials are now looking to see what group they can target next for HIV prevention. Men in the LGBT community, including those who are sex workers, account for 41 percent of new diagnoses in the country as of 2013. This is staggering, considering they only represent 3-7.5 percent of the population.
Thailand may be acting as a beacon of hope for other countries in the region with high mother-to-child HIV transmission rates, but they are truly showing the world what can be done when public policy is built on scientific evidence and informed medical opinions.
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