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Cuba becomes first nation to eliminate mother-to-child HIV

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Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said “Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible.”

This is a major victory in fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.

The Challenge

Pregnant women living with HIV have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding, if untreated.

However, that risk drops to just over 1% if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur.

Worldwide about 1 million pregnant women are infected with syphilis annually. This can result in early fetal loss and stillbirth, neonatal death, low-birth-weight infants and serious neonatal infections.

But simple, cost-effective screening and treatment options during pregnancy, such as penicillin, can eliminate most of these complications.

Cuba’s achievement

Since 2010 WHO has been working with Cuba and other countries in America to implement a regional initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Cuba’s achievement is inspirational and its 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.

According to UNAids data, worldwide 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.

Scientists have said eradicating Aids is feasible if HIV prevention continues to grow, even if there is no cure. The reduction in infection rates in Cuba is seen as a major breakthrough in the campaign to rid the world of the virus.