Six Caribbean islands eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis were on Friday certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
“This elimination is the result of our strong political commitment to public health and of making the health of mothers, children and families a regional priority,” said Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis. Over the last six years the Caribbean has succeeded in reducing new HIV infections in children by more than half. “This is an amazing achievement given the high rates of HIV in the past, and we intend to improve on this success story even more in the future.”
Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Regional Director for the Americas of WHO, said “This elimination is a remarkable achievement that puts the Americas at the forefront of the global effort to ensure that no child is born with HIV or congenital syphilis”. “With political commitment, stronger health systems, and timely prevention, diagnosis and treatment, we can achieve great changes,” she added.
“UNAIDS congratulates the six states and territories on this important achievement,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “All countries should follow their example and ensure that every child has an HIV-free start to his or her life.”
Since the launch in 2010 of the Regional Initiative for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean—coordinated by PAHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with support from other regional partners—new HIV infections have been reduced in the Caribbean by more than half among children, from 1800 in 2010 to fewer than a thousand in 2016.
Reported cases of congenital syphilis, meanwhile, remain below the goal of having no more than 50 cases per 100,000 live births, although they have not declined since 2010, and it is likely there is underreporting of cases.
“The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is not just a dream; it’s an achievable goal,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today we can say we are closer to ensuring an AIDS-free generation”.
In the Caribbean as of 2016, 74 percent of pregnant women living with HIV, 64 percent more than in 2010, had access to antiretroviral therapy to protect their health and significantly reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. The increased access to treatment contributed to a 52 percent reduction in the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV between 2010 and 2016, which is now at 9 percent, still higher than the target of 2 percent.
Other changes in the health sector that have contributed to this progress include intensive participation by both the public and private health sectors, led by the ministries of health, in the implementation of comprehensive maternal and child health services, with an emphasis on universal coverage and quality antenatal and prenatal care. They also include expanded testing to ensure early detection and immediate treatment for both HIV and syphilis, laboratory networks of guaranteed quality in accordance with international standards and the implementation of essential measures to guarantee the human rights of women living with HIV.
“The validation for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis sends a strong message that the Caribbean is making remarkable inroads to achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation and the achievement directly aligns with achieving our vision and objectives,” said Dereck Springer, Director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS. “The spread of the disease from mothers to children is being halted, but elimination status must be maintained and other Caribbean countries must strengthen their services with the goal of receiving validation from WHO,” he added.
The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is an important milestone for ending AIDS and sexually transmitted infections as public health threats by 2030, commitments endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and by the World Health Assembly. Other PAHO Member States in the Caribbean are participating in the formal validation process, and it is expected that more will be recognised for their achievements in 2018.