On the eve of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., a new report released by UNAIDS shows significant progress in the battle against pediatric HIV and AIDS. It also highlights some key areas of improvement needed to reach our goal of ending new HIV infections in children and keeping HIV-positive mothers and children alive and healthy.
According to UNAIDS, about 330,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2011 - a drop of 60,000 from the previous year. Particularly promising was a reported 25% decrease in new pediatric infections since 2009 among the 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa identified as high priority by the Global Plan to end HIV among children.
"The significant decrease in new pediatric infections in sub-Saharan Africa is clear evidence that global efforts are turning the tide of the epidemic in children in the part of the world where it is needed most," said Chip Lyons, President and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).
The report also predicts that several countries where EGPAF works - such as Kenya, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - are on track to meet the ambitious 2015 target to eliminate new pediatric HIV infections.
Key to achieving this for all countries is universal access to services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). The report shows that investments in scaling up PMTCT are bearing fruit. For HIV-positive women living in low- and middle-income countries, PMTCT access has increased significantly - from 48% of in 2010, to 57% in 2011.
"One point of particular concern is that a relatively low percentage of mothers are receiving PMTCT drug regimens in the breastfeeding period, the time in which a significant amount of transmission to infants occurs," said Lyons. "Too few mothers are also receiving antiretroviral treatment for their own health, which is vital to their survival and for the care of their children."
For those children living with HIV, testing and treatment remains critical. According to UNAIDS, only 28% of HIV-positive children received antiretroviral treatment in 2011. While this is a slight increase from the previous year, it is still woefully inadequate. Without early identification and treatment, half of children with HIV do not survive to see their fifth birthday.
"As the global health community gathers in Washington for the AIDS 2012 conference, this report shows us where more work is needed, but also where momentum is on our side," said Lyons. "It should encourage us to rededicate our efforts and our resources to even greater decreases in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in children, and to not let up until we get to zero."