UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The transmission of the HIV virus from mothers to babies during childbirth can be virtually eliminated by 2015, UNICEF says in a new report on children and AIDS released Tuesday.
Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations children’s agency, told a news conference Tuesday that the new study shows that proper testing and medical care that includes antiretroviral drugs could prevent virtually all pregnant women worldwide from passing the HIV virus to their newborns.
Releasing UNICEF’s fifth annual report on children and AIDS, Lake said the agency has launched a pilot program in Kenya to get HIV-positive pregnant women the antiretroviral drugs they need to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies.
Although cases of mother-to-child transmissions are now practically nonexistent in the United States, Europe and other developed regions, nearly 1,000 babies in sub-Saharan Africa are still born everyday with the HIV virus, and many will die by age 2 if they don’t receive medication.
“That is outrageous because we have the knowledge and the tools to prevent it,” Lake said.
The report was produced by UNICEF in partnership with other U.N. agencies: the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the U.N. Population Fund, and UNESCO.
It found that in 2009, 53 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries received the antiretrovirals they needed to prevent transmission of the virus to their new babies, up from 15 percent in 2005.
Still, many HIV-positive women, especially in the isolated rural regions of the world’s poorest countries, do not get the medical care or medicine they need to protect their newborns from the virus, Lake said.
Under the pilot program UNICEF launched last month in Kenya, expectant mothers with HIV are being given cardboard boxes called the “Mother-Baby Pack,” which include all the medicines they and their new child need to prevent transmission of the virus. It will be rolled out next in the African nations of Cameroon, Lesotho and Zambia.
“We are hoping that this will empower women to medicate themselves and their babies,” said Jimmy Kolker, who heads UNICEF’s HIV and AIDS program. He said that 30,000 of the 50,000 boxes manufactured so far are to be distributed in the four pilot program countries. Each box costs $70 to make and is paid for largely by private donations, he said.
The report says AIDS remains a leading cause of death among women of reproductive age around the world and a major cause of maternal mortality in countries with generalized epidemics. In sub-Saharan Africa, 9 percent of maternal mortality is attributable to HIV and AIDS and their complications, it said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.