by Peter Ndoru

Aids-free generation

Partnerships have reduced mother-to-baby transmissions

Partnerships have reduced mother-to-baby transmissions
Aids-free generation

This month we see the millionth baby born HIV-free. It is yet another remarkable step in the long fight against HIV and Aids, as the United States and its global partners work toward what they call an 'Aids-free generation' which, just a decade ago, would have been unimaginable.

Mother-to-baby transmission has long been a source of concern among governments and organisations working to control the spread of HIV.

But more effective antiretroviral drugs and regimens are now dramatically cutting the chances of an infected mother passing on the disease to her baby during pregnancy or breast feeding.

The millionth baby born HIV-free was Tuesday to be trumpeted as part of celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known by its acronym Pepfar.

The biggest fall in transmission rates from mom to infant has come since 2009, US Global AIDS co-ordinator Eric Goosby told AFP.

“Somewhere round 430 000 babies are born annually with HIV and this project that we’ve been in since the beginning of Pepfar has intensified over the last three years in partnership with UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids) and Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund),” he said.

The programme was working to “virtually eliminate paediatric HIV by 2015 and keep their mothers alive,” Goosby said, with the aim of reducing the number of babies born with the infection to around 30 000 annually.

This involves not just identifying the mother, but getting her on a drugs programme and keeping her in treatment through that pregnancy and any later pregnancies – not always an easy task in rural Africa.

Absent a medical breakthrough leading to a cure, experts are working toward a so-called 'tipping point' when fewer people contract HIV every year than the number of people being treated.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that some 13 countries, from Botswana to Zimbabwe, were close to that all-important tipping point. In Ethiopia and Malawi, the ratio of new HIV infections to the increase of patients on treatment is just 0.3.

The figures are startling. For instance, Ethiopia – which with a population of 84.7 million is the most populous African country after Egypt – registered only 11 000 new cases of HIV in adults in 2011.

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