Six Caribbean territories eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis

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Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis were today certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“This elimination is the result of our strong political commitment to public health and of making the health of mothers, children and families a regional priority,” said Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis. Over the last six years the Caribbean has succeeded in reducing new HIV infections in children by more than half. “This is an amazing achievement given the high rates of HIV in the past, and we intend to improve on this success story even more in the future.”

Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Regional Director for the Americas of WHO, said “This elimination is a remarkable achievement that puts the Americas at the forefront of the global effort to ensure that no child is born with HIV or congenital syphilis”. “With political commitment, stronger health systems, and timely prevention, diagnosis and treatment, we can achieve great changes,” she added.

“UNAIDS congratulates the six states and territories on this important achievement,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “All countries should follow their example and ensure that every child has an HIV-free start to his or her life.”

In 2015, Cuba, another Caribbean island, became the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO for having achieved elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Subsequently, Thailand and Belarus were also validated as having achieved dual elimination, while Armenia received validation of its elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the Republic of Moldova was validated for the elimination of congenital syphilis.

Since the launch in 2010 of the Regional Initiative for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean—coordinated by PAHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with support from other regional partners—new HIV infections have been reduced in the Caribbean by more than halfamong children, from 1800 in 2010 to fewer than a thousand in 2016. Reported cases of congenital syphilis, meanwhile, remain below the goal of having no more than 50 cases per 100,000 live births, although they have not declined since 2010, and it is likely there is underreporting of cases.

“The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is not just a dream; it’s an achievable goal,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today we can say we are closer to ensuring an AIDS-free generation”.

In the Caribbean as of 2016, 74% of pregnant women living with HIV, 64% more than in 2010, had access to antiretroviral therapy to protect their health and significantly reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. The increased access to treatment contributed to a 52% reduction in the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV between 2010 and 2016, which is now at 9%, still higher than the target of 2%.

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