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World AIDS Day: Saving Mothers, Saving Babies

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Joe DeCapua

The recent UNAIDS global report cited significant progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.  It says there have been fewer infections and fewer deaths among women and their newborns.  One organization has played a major role in that success.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation currently operates 5,000 sites in 17 countries.  That’s up from a mere eight locations 10 years ago, when it started its international program.

Still a long way to go

Dr. Laura Guay (Gay), the foundation’s vice president of research, says, “We’re very happy to see the new report that we’ve made significant progress in the last five years with the scale-up of services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission globally.  Whereas in 2004, only about 10 percent of pregnant women had access and were receiving antiretroviral drugs to protect their baby from HIV, in 2009 that number has gone up to 53 percent. “

Mother, nurse and baby in PMTCT program
Mother, nurse and baby in PMTCT program

But Guay says thousands more pregnant women still need access to HIV prevention services.

“We still have a long way to go.  Forty-seven percent of women still do not have access.  So, while we celebrate the progress that’s been made in the last five years, we look forward to accelerated progress in the next few years so that we can reach the remaining women,” she says.

With a lot of effort, it can be done

Health officials, she says, foresee a time when the effort to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) will have succeeded and the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV will be eliminated.

“In order to do that, it requires a concerted effort from multiple parties and partners.  And very specifically, ministries of health in countries have really gotten behind the message that this is possible for their populations and have invested in making PMTCT a priority for their health programs,” Guay says.

There’s also been a great deal of international support from PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and UNAIDS, among others.

But following the global economic crisis, funding isn’t as free flowing as it once was.

Dr. Guay says, “I think it’s a challenge for all of us to figure out how to do what we’re doing more effectively with a more cost-effective system, to evaluate models of service delivery.  Look at ways we can improve the efficiencies of our programs.  To look at making sure that these are done in a way that we can get the most effect out of the limited resources we have possible.”

She says before these programs were available, many women had lost hope of having a child that was not infected with HIV and feared that they, too, would succumb to the disease.

“Yet, we see then that these women are able to get supportive services.  They’re having HIV negative children.  And those women are then becoming the spokespersons for both the (health) ministry, the facilities and in their community, saying that, you know, this is what can happen if you access the services,” she says.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation supported programs account for 25 percent of the services available worldwide to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

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