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HIV and Babies: Cuba Eradicates Mother-to-Child Transmission

Jun 30, 2015 06:05 PM EDT

Other nations in the world can learn from Cuba, which today became the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, according to the World Health Organization, which validated Cuba through a detailed process

 "Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation," she added, according to WHO.

At present, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. They have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their children, if they go untreated, according to WHO.

A woman's risk of transmitting the disease drops to a bit over one percent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the infection stages. Since 2009, the number of children born annually with HIV has almost halved, down from 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 in 2013, according to a release from the United Nations.

Regarding syphilis, nearly 1 million pregnant women are infected annually. However, penicillin or other simple treatments during pregnancy can eliminate most complications, according to WHO.

For its part, Cuba has worked with WHO to ensure early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both pregnant woman and their partners, treatment for women who test positive and their babies, caesarean deliveries, and substitution of breastfeeding, according to WHO.

In 2013, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba, and only five babies were born with congenital syphilis, according to the UN.

 "Cuba's success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV," said Pan American Health Organization (PANO) Director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, according to the UN.

"It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children," said Dr. Michel Sidibé, executive director of the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS, according to NBC News.

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