Feature story

Leaders from West and Central Africa examine ways to eliminate new HIV infections among children

30 November 2011

UNAIDS Regional Director for West and Central Africa Meskerem Bekele-Grunitzky participating at the Paris meeting to discuss strategies to accelerate progress in the elimination of new HIV infections among children.
UNICEF France/Gil Fornet

Leaders from West and Central Africa met in Paris from 16 – 17 November to discuss strategies to accelerate progress in the elimination of new HIV infections among children.

The meeting, co-hosted by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNICEF, brought to the Institute Pasteur 350 representatives from 26 countries, including the Minister of Health and HIV, Cote d’Ivoire, Professor N`Dri Yoman Thérèse, Nobel Laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, David Gressly and the UNAIDS Regional Director for West and Central Africa Meskerem Bekele-Grunitzky.

In her opening remarks Professor Barre-Sinoussi expressed her concern about the fact that nearly 1 000 children are infected with HIV everyday in sub-Saharan Africa, while in western countries, the vertical transmission of HIV has been virtually eliminated. Despite such inequalities, Professor Barre-Sinoussi emphasized that antiretroviral medicines are one of the most effective tools that we have against the virus today. It is possible to reach all pregnant women living with HIV who need these services and end new HIV infections among children by 2015.

Participants discussed the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive in the context of existing capacities in West and Central Africa. They agreed on the need to strengthen political leadership as well as to advocate for governments to fulfill the Abuja commitment to dedicate 15% of the national budget to health.

While only seven of the 22 countries with highest HIV burden of new HIV infections among children are in the West and Central Africa region, they comprised half the global gap to reach 80% of women who required antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in 2009. Nigeria alone comprised 32% of this gap. In 2009, only 23% of women in need of ARVs to prevent transmission of HIV to their children received them, compared to 68% in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Dr Bekele-Grunitzky urged participants to remain committed to the goals of eliminating new HIV infection among children. She noted that most of the countries in the region were just emerging from conflict, which increased the challenges even more. She urged countries to strengthen their AIDS responses and was encouraged by present efforts to accelerate the regional momentum.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included how to strengthen the service delivery coverage by integrating HIV services, addressing human resources for health—including strengthening task shifting and task sharing, reducing loss to follow-up and strengthening male engagement.