Cuba has become the first country to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to baby, the World Health Organisation has announced.
‘One of the greatest public health achievements possible and an important step towards an Aids-free generation”- Margaret Chan WHOS Director General
Over the past five years, Caribbean countries have had increased access to antiretroviral drugs as part of a regional initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission. Testing of HIV and syphillis for pregnant women and their partners, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding have also contributed to the breaking of the infection chain, said the WHO.
Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation, which partnered with the WHO on the initiative, said:
“Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.”
Each year approximately 1.4 million HIV infected women become pregnant. If left untreated, the chances of transmitting the virus to their baby ranges anywhere from 15-45 percent. The risk drops to just over 1% if the mother and baby are treated with antiretrovirals.
Scientists say getting rid of AIDS is indeed possible if the HIV rate, which has steadily dropped around the world over the past few years, continues its downward trend. Cuba’s reduction rate is regarded as a major breakthrough in putting an end to the virus across the world.
Globally, more than 35 million adults and children are living with HIV but the infection rate has slowed significantly, with 2.1 million becoming HIV positive in 2013, down from 2.9 million in 2005, according to UNAids data.
In 2013, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba, and only five born with congenital syphilis.
According to the WHO, the number of children born every year with HIV has almost halved since 2009, to 240,000 in 2013.