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AIDS Report: Failing Women, Failing Children

A report Thursday accuses UN agencies, governments and donors of not doing enough to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTC) of HIV, the AIDS virus. The report, Failing Women, Failing Children, comes from the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC). It's being issued as the World Health Assembly meets this week in Geneva.

Gregg Gonsalves, co-founder of the ITPC, says, "One-point-five million women with HIV who become pregnant every year don't have access to many of the vital services for their own health or to prevent mother-to-child transmission. This means that over 900 new cases of HIV are reported in babies in developing countries every day."

The report says these new infections are preventable.

"Our failure to prevent HIV transmission to babies is truly a failure to prevent disease progression in women living with HIV. If we treat mothers properly, if we treat women properly for their own health, we would have few or no HIV infections in babies," he says.

Leading activist lends support

Backing the new report is former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, who isnow co-director of the organization AIDS-Free World.He says the keys to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV are universal access to medicine and gender equality.

"He says there's a "shocking double standard between the Global North and the Global South" when it comes to treatment. It's better in rich nations than in most poor nations.

"In the Global North, when you have HIV-positive pregnant women, we use what are called triple combination (drug) therapies. And the transmission to the infant is reduced by…98 or 99 percent," he says.

Not so in developing countries.

"In the South, we use a single dose application of a particular drug. And the reduction in transmission is only about 40 percent. Even when you combine it with another drug, it's about 60 percent. Only 8 percent of all the women in the developing world have access to the triple combination therapy, which would virtually elimination transmission," he says.

Lewis says the keys to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV are universal access to medicine and gender equality.

UN agencies criticized

"What is painful…is to see the way in which the figures are manipulated by the United Nations agencies. There's a certain misleading component to it because they pretend that 33 percent – fully a third of all the women who are HIV positive and pregnant – have access to drug intervention. When in fact all they have access – almost 50 percent of the – is to this single dose response," he says. Lewis calls that response "a mockery."

UNAIDS position on PMTC

UNAIDS says health systems "need to be strengthened" to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. And it calls for the "timely administration" of a combination of anti-retroviral drugs that is affordable and offers superior resistance to the aids virus.