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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 3, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 27
Cuba eliminates mother-to-child HIV transmission
WHO hails breakthrough
Section One
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Cuba eliminates mother-to-child HIV transmission
WHO hails breakthrough

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Cuba has successfully eliminated mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a June 30 statement. It is the first country in the world to have done so.

WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, called it one of the greatest public health achievements possible. It follows years of efforts to give pregnant women early access to prenatal care, testing, and drugs to stop HIV and syphilis from passing from mother to child.

WHO said it hopes other countries will be able to achieve the same results.

According to WHO, some 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant every year. Untreated, they have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding.

But the risk drops to about 1% if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and their babies.

Nearly a million pregnant women are infected with syphilis every year. Again, early screening and treatment can help prevent infection of their unborn children.

According to Cuban data, less than 2% of Cuban children whose mothers have HIV are born with the virus, the lowest transmission rate possible with the available prevention methods.

After some initial missteps in dealing with HIV infections in the 1980s - like forcibly quarantining HIV patients - Cuba developed progressive medical policies that emphasized early diagnosis and treatment of HIV. The Cuban government offers free treatment for HIV, and estimates that 97% of the country's HIV-positive people get treatment.

Cuba's prevention campaign has also been notably successful, producing an infection rate of only 0.18% in the 15-49 age group, an 'exceptionally low' rate by the standards of the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

Globally, about 70% of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries receive effective antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of the virus to their children.

Among the 22 countries that account for 90% of new HIV infections, eight have already reduced new HIV infections among children by more than 50% since 2009 (based on 2013 data) and another four are close to this mark, the WHO says.

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