According to the World Health Organization, Cuba today became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
“This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, in a press release. “It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children.”
Annually, an estimated 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant worldwide. Without treatment, there is a 15 to 45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to the child at some point during the pregnancy, delivery, or while breastfeeding. If antiretroviral medicines are given to both the mother and child through all stages of pregnancy, however, the risk of transmission falls to just over one percent.
There have been major initiatives in recent years aiming to get women the treatment they need to keep their children HIV- and syphilis-free. Focusing on testing and treatment, these programs did improve the situation — the proportion of pregnant HIV positive women living in low- and middle-income countries who received effective antiretroviral medicines doubled between 2009 and 2013.
Cuba specifically was a part of an initiative beginning in 2010, in which the WHO and Pan American Health Organization planned to work with countries in the Americas to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis. Pre-natal care, antiretrovirals, cesarean deliveries and breastfeeding substitutions were all important benefits provided as part of a universal health system. The system was accessible and equitable, and the programs were a triumph.
“Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV,” said PAHO Director Dr Carissa F. Etienne in a press release. “Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.”
There are a number of countries now poised to eliminate mother-to-child transmission and could possibly follow in Cuba’s footsteps in the near future. Eight of the 22 countries which account for 90 percent of the world’s new HIV infections have reduced new infections among children by half since 2009.
“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General in a press release. “This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step toward having an AIDS-free generation.”