Feature story

Eliminating new paediatric HIV infections and congenital syphilis in Asia-Pacific

27 August 2011

Ngan is living with HIV. She gave birth to her son, who was born free of HIV, because Ngan had access to PMTCT services.
Credit: UNAIDS/ Mott

One of the key goals of the global AIDS response is the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive. In Asia and the Pacific, both Thailand and Cambodia are on track to reach this goal. However, overall, coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission is well below global averages, with very wide variations across the region.

During a symposium held on August 27 during The 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, experts explored how the 2015 elimination goal could be best achieved in Asia and the Pacific and what immediate concrete steps need to be taken. Organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS, the session also reviewed progress on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and discussed opportunities and challenges.

The event was intended to build on both the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive,  launched in June 2011, and a regional UN Task Force framework on the issue developed in November last year.

Participants heard that improved coverage of prevention of mother to child HIV and congenital syphilis services, better monitoring of mothers living with HIV and their children and greater coordination among health services in the region are critical to eliminating new infections in children.

“To reach the goal of zero new infections among children by 2015, national health services and communities need to work together,” said Steven Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific in conjunction with the session. “By coordinating efforts, not only will lives be saved and HIV transmission to children be halted, but national health systems will be strengthened as well.”

To reach the goal of zero new infections among children by 2015, national health services and communities need to work together

Steven Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific

Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, maintained that while countries in the region are working to scale up the elimination of new HIV infections among children, there was a need  increase monitoring. “A lack of critical monitoring means they do not know how many children born to HIV-positive mothers are free of HIV and how many are infected,” she added, “Improved monitoring, especially through strong data management and follow-up, will go a long way towards our ultimate goal of having zero new infections among the region’s children.”

Without proper follow up systems, many of the children infected with HIV at birth or through breastfeeding will not be treated and about half will die before their second birthday.

The need to scale up antiretroviral (ARV) therapy was also highlighted. 

"Technologies like the WHO 2010 recommendations for ARV drugs for treating pregnant women and preventing HIV infections in infants exist and we know what needs to be done. Now we have a new strategy to do it more efficiently and effectively in ways that also contribute to stronger health services,” said WHO South East Asia Regional Director, Dr Samlee Pliangbanchang. “The vision for a new generation free from HIV is within our reach."

By providing high-quality, coordinated, antenatal care and family planning services, identifying and treating pregnant women living with HIV and syphilis, and providing follow-up treatment for children, countries in the region can achieve the goal of zero new infections among their children and keeping their mothers alive, the participants concluded.