Efforts to curb HIV transmission from mothers to their children in Africa have received a boost, thanks to a new partnership between the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and a UN-backed initiative seeking to help lift villages on the continent lift themselves out of poverty.
Under an agreement signed today, UNAIDS and the Millennium Villages Project will jointly help local governments in nine African nations set up mother to child transmission-free zones. "
The Millennium Villages Project aims to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) " eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline " in 10 African countries within five years through community-led development.
Every year, the great majority of children born with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, where fewer than half of pregnant women living with the virus receive antiretroviral prophylaxis, which is crucial in preventing newborns from contracting HIV.
With the support from African and global business leaders, the new scheme will draw on existing infrastructure and human resources in villages to rapidly expand health services.
In the whole of Western Europe, there were fewer than 100 mother-to-child transmissions in 2007, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, there were some 370,000, " said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. We have a major opportunity now to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa and save thousands of lives every year. "
In high-income countries, transmission of HIV to children has plummeted from 25 per cent to between 1 and 5 per cent in recent years as HIV testing and counseling of pregnant women, the use of antiretroviral drugs during and after delivery, and safe infant feeding have become common practice.
Evidence from Africa points to locally-appropriate and cost-effective clinical measures could slash transmissions from current rates, hovering around 45 per cent, to as low as 1 or 2 per cent.