MTCT rates decline in Africa
African health ministers met this week to discuss the AIDS pandemic. While the challenges ahead are enormous, there is cause for celebration: rates of mother-to-child-transmission across Africa have declined thanks to early interventions.
At a conference hosted by Sant'Egidion on Friday, the ministers announced that increased access to anti-retroviral drugs have been responsible for lowering the rate of mother-to-child-transmission. Sant'Egidion is a Catholic community that undertakes much charity work. The community has been involved in mediating several of Africa’s armed conflicts. It also works in the field of HIV/AIDS and advocates against the death penalty.
The conference was attended by health ministers from 18 difference countries. Many of these countries have some of the continent’s highest HIV prevalence rates, including Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Mother-to-child-transmission is also known as “vertical transmission.” Thanks to expanding testing and treatment facilities, it is possible that a generation of children born free of HIV is within reach.
In Malawi alone, said national Health Minister Mary Shaba, the rate of vertical transmission has been slashed from 33.1% to only 1.5% in recent years. There are still about 120,000 children under the age of 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi. About 58% of women and 41% of babies in need are given the drugs needed to prevent the transmission of the virus.
According to a Mozambican First Lady Maria da Luz Guebuza, ensuring universal access to anti-retroviral drugs is among the government’s top priorities. Training domestic health workers and making sure that medications are easy to access are vital steps in this worthy goal. There are about 130,000 children under the age of 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Mozambique. In 2009, 70% of pregnant women were taking the drugs needed to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies.
In 2009, one thousand babies were newly infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Testing remains the most important first step to preventing the infection of newborns, as only 26% of the 1.4 million pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries have received an HIV test.
Even in the hardest-hit region – Eastern and Southern Africa – only half of pregnant women are tested for HIV. In the developing world as a whole, little more than half of those who testm positive take anti-retroviral drugs.
Taking anti-retroviral drugs can also have a positive impact for couples with different HIV statuses. On Thursday, a study of heterosexual couples living in Africa, India and the Americas was published. The study found that HIV-positive patients who are routinely taking their anti-retroviral drugs are 96% less likely to transmit the virus to their partners.