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UNICEF Reminds G8 of Pledge to End HIV Transmission from Mother to Child

The United Kingdom office of the United Nations children's fund is urging the British government to ensure that G8 countries fulfill their promise to provide all pregnant women with HIV access to drugs that prevent transmission of the virus to their babies by 2010. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

Jemima Khan, a UNICEF U.K. Ambassador, and Mathakane Metsing from Lesotho kicked off the campaign at the launch of a four-minute film called "The Gift." The film tracks the story of how HIV is transmitted from mother to unborn baby and points out that it could be different if the drugs are made avaialble. Only one in five mothers with HIV receives the right medicine and care to prevent tranmission of the virus during pregnancy and labor. Without treatment, over half of the babies born with the virus will die before reaching their second birthday. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow narrates the film.

"Hello, I have a story that I want to share with you," Paltrow said. "It's about an unwanted gift passed from mother to child; it's about HIV."

Metsing is living with HIV but gave birth to an HIV-free baby because she was given nevirapine, a drug that prevents the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child.

Speaking to VOA before the launch, UNICEF U.K. Communications Director Angela Travis expressed concern that the goal of providing drugs to all mothers who need them may not be achieved.

"What we are doing with this launch and with this campaign is to try and keep up the pressure on the G8 leaders to fulfill the commitment made in 2007," Travis said. "At the G8 meeting in 2007, they committed to fully fund the PMTCT [prevention of mother to child of HIV] universal access across the world, and that was a commitment of $1.5 billion so we are presenting the petition before the G8 meeting this year.

Travis acknowledged that the British government has made funds available towards improving universal access but specific figures are not available.

Metsing's baby is now two years old and healthy. And, Metsing herself is healthy. She is now a peer counselor in her native Lesotho, working for a non-governmental organization called Mothers to Mothers. She tells VOA that the major challenges facing women there are stigma, ignorance and a lack of universal access to drugs that can help stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child. She appealed to G8 countries to honor their pledge so women can be educated and every pregnant woman who is HIV positive can have access to the drugs.

"I am here today because I don't want to see more babies dying," Metsing said. "I am pleading to world leaders to give the money they promised. "

Travis tells VOA that "The Gift" is about educating the British about the situation and also asking them to help.

"Almost every minute of every day a baby is born with HIV," Paltrow said. "World leaders promised to prevent this. We need them to keep their promise and give all babies the chance to be born free of HIV. Tell world leaders to keep their promise."

"The Gift" will be shown in independent movie theaters across Britain and also on UNICEF's web site.