High-level meeting on AIDS underlines strategic innovations to halt infections

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) – HIV experts, business leaders, aid agencies and ambassadors of 22 priority countries -- home to 90 percent of new HIV infections among children -- on Friday agreed in Washington, DC, that the surest way to halt the spread of the deadly virus from mother to child was through strategic innovations.

The High-Level Meeting on Innovation for Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT) of HIV comes in the lead up to the 19th (XIX) International AIDS conference, scheduled for July this year, and against the backdrop of dramatic reductions in new HIV infections among children.

Globally, new infections fell from 550,000 in 2001 to 390,000 in 2010, the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) said.

Nearly half of pregnant women living with HIV across the world now receive antiretroviral (ARV) medicines to prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn children.

Speaking at the meeting, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, said more must still be done.

“The costs of prevention are relatively low, and the costs of inaction are unspeakably high,” Lake said, adding:“To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must reach every child and every mother.”

Rates of mother to child transmission of HIV -- which occurs when a woman passes the virus to her baby during pregnancy, labour, or breastfeeding -- are being steadily reduced due to innovative approaches in country after country.

In his remarks, Dr. Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), highlighted the successes so far in reversing the spread of the epidemic, but said the struggle was not over.

“New HIV infections in children have reduced by 30% since 2002 and we believe that by 2015 children everywhere can be born free of HIV,” De Lay said. “This new global plan is realistic, it is achievable and it is driven by the most affected countries.”

The meeting showcased several innovative approaches, including ‘Project Mwana’ in Zambia, a collaboration among the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners, which uses mobile technologies to halve the time taken to receive HIV test results.

In the 22 priority countries, the number of mothers and babies receiving ARV treatment is growing steadily, UNICEF said.

However, barriers such as stigma and geographical remoteness continue to prevent many from undergoing testing and treatment.

The priority countries are Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivôire, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe

According to UNICEF, the national HIV prevalence continues to decline in Ethiopia, with a current estimate of 1.5 percent.

The total number of people living with HIV (adults and children) in 2011 was estimated at 780,254, including 168,013 children less than 15 years who live with HIV and 96,493 of them are in need of ARV treatment.

It is estimated that in 2011, about 37,171 women in the Horn of Africa country were in need of ARV treatment and other MTCT (mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS) services.

“We are extremely pleased that the Government of Ethiopia recently launched an accelerated plan to have 1,000 additional health centres providing maternal and new-born care and PMTCT services by the end of 2012,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia.

“HIV+ women should be prioritized to receive ARVs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission during pregnancy, child birth and breast feeding,” Chaiban underlined.

Participants at the High-Level Meeting included representatives of UNAIDS and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which together co-chair the Global Steering Group on EMTCT.

Other heads of agency on the UN Inter-Agency Task Team on Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission were also present, along with members of the Business Leadership Council for a Generation Born HIV-Free (BLC), a private sector group formed to support the UNAIDS “Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015”.

Speaking on behalf of BLC, John Megrue noted: “The BLC is eager to make sure that the private sector can contribute in new and innovative ways.”

The April meeting is to be followed by a leadership forum on “Innovation for the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission” on 22 July in Washington DC, which will showcase technologies and approaches by individual countries to accelerate results, especially within the most disadvantaged communities.
It is widely known that the know-how exists but the challenge is to make it accessible to all countries.

The high-level meeting closed with an agreement to promote sharing of experiences among countries to scale-up innovations.
-0- PANA AR/VAO 20April2012

20 Abril 2012 14:36:38

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