23 July 2012

Africa: U.S. Commits to Greater Support for HIV-Positive Pregnant Women

Photo: Sue Valentine/allAfrica
At Khayelitsha Hospital's maternal obstetrical unit near Cape Town, HIV-positive mothers and their babies get life-saving treatment in a nation where maternal deaths remain at crisis levels.

Washington, DC — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Monday that the administration of Barack Obama is committed to "an Aids-free generation" and will spend an additional U.S.$80 million to support treatment for HIV-positive pregnant women.

Opening the 19th International Aids Conference, she also said the United States wants to eliminate mother-to-child transmission by 2015 and more than $1 billion has been invested in this effort to date.

The high-profile biennial gathering of Aids scientists, international policymakers, members of implementing organizations, activists and people living with Aids from around the world is meeting in the United States for the first time since 1990.

Clinton noted the achievements made so far in the global fight against HIV/Aids and defined an Aids-free generation as a time when no child anywhere is born with the Aids virus; adults will have a significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected; and if someone does acquire HIV they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing Aids and passing the virus on to others.

"We are also setting out to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in getting to zero [in terms of mother-to-child transmission]," Clinton said. "When women are identified as HIV-positive and eligible for treatment, they are often referred to another clinic, one that may be too far away for them to reach. As a result, too many women never start treatment."

Clinton noted the strides that Zambia had made in its efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. "Between 2009 and 2011, the number of new infections went down by more than half," she said. "And we are just getting started."

She said the United States also aimed to help more Zambians get on treatment and support a massive scale-up of male circumcision - two steps that she said would drive down the number of new sexually transmitted infections in the country by more than 25 percent over the next five years.

"We're focusing on what we call combination prevention," Clinton told a packed auditorium at the Washington Convention Center, where she received an enthusiastic reception from conference delegates.

"Our strategy includes condoms, counseling and testing, and places special emphasis on three other interventions: treatment as prevention, voluntary medical male circumcision, and stopping the transmission of HIV from mothers to children," she said.

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