New HIV cases in seven sub-Saharan African countries have been halved since 2009, according to the the United Nations AIDS program on Tuesday.
A report on its Global Plan by UNAIDS stated that the seven African countries that experienced these dramatic reductions are Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. In terms of human lives, this reduction means that tens of thousands more babies are now being born free of HIV. The UNAIDS Global Plan is a plan to tackle HIV in 20 of the worst affected countries.
Across 21 priority countries in Africa, there were 130,000 fewer new HIV infections among children in 2012. That’s a drop of 38 percent since 2009, and can mostly be attributed to increased antiretroviral drug treatment of pregnant women with the virus.
Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS’ executive director stated:
The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that with focused efforts every child can be born free from HIV. But progress has stalled in some countries with high numbers of new HIV infections. We need to find out why and remove the bottlenecks which are preventing scale-up.”
UNAIDS said that Angola and Nigeria are among the countries which are causing concern. In Angola, new infections in children have increased, while in Nigeria they have remained unchanged since 2009.
The largest number of children acquiring HIV in the region is Nigeria, with nearly 60,000 new infections in 2012.
According to UNAIDS, for those children who do become infected, access to AIDS drugs that can keep their disease in check is “unacceptably low.” Only 3 in 10 children get the AIDS medicines they need in most priority countries.
Much of the reduction in new HIV cases in children, according to the UNAIDS report, was thanks to more use of AIDS drug treatment for HIV-positive pregnant women.
Women taking the antiretroviral drug treatment attained coverage rates that were above 75 percent in many of the priority countries, the report said.
One other source of good news in Africa is the country of Kenya, where HIV cases overall have dropped by 40 percent in the last five years. NASCOP head William Maina attributes this drop to intensified awareness campaigns as well as prevention programs.
The health of mothers in these countries has also improved due to antiretroviral drug therapy and other medicines, which are used to treat people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. The drugs can also prevent HIV from being transmitted to the children of these mothers.
According to UNAIDS, Botswana and South Africa have reduced mother to child HIV transmission rates to 5 percent or less.
Though the halving of HIV infections in 7 African countries is very good news, the increase of HIV cases in other countries is worrisome and indicates that there is still a long way to go to reach the historic point in history when HIV will be eliminated. Still, the steps that have been taken to halve the new HIV infection rates in children are definitely ones in the right direction towards this noble goal.
Written by: Douglas Cobb