PORT-OF-SPAIN: UNAIDS Caribbean is predicting that a Caribbean country could become the first nation in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission.
It said 13 Caribbean countries are on track to be certified as having achieved the status and three are close to reaching the goal. Over the last decade, countries have successfully increased access to antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy and empowered women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their children.
UNAIDS Caribbean said national validation processes are underway throughout the region to confirm reported rates, making it likely that in 2015, a Caribbean country will be the first in the world to announce that it has ended HIV transmission to babies.
“This region was the first to eliminate polio and measles,” said UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director, Dr. Ernest Massiah. “These successes would not have been possible without political commitment. We need the same will to end mother to child HIV transmission. The question is which country will be first.”
Dr. Massiah said that before treatment was available, at least one in four babies born to HIV-positive women in many Caribbean countries was infected with HIV.
“Today Anguilla, Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Montserrat and St. Kitts & Nevis all have shown that they have reached the elimination target of below two per cent transmission,” he said. “Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Maarten have not had an HIV positive baby on record in the last four to 10 years, but must finalize their documentation.”
He said the Bahamas, Jamaica and Suriname currently have transmission rates between two and five per cent. Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago lag behind, with more than five per cent of children born to mothers living with HIV becoming infected. The Dominican Republic, Grenada and St. Lucia have insufficient information.
“No child living in the Caribbean should be born with HIV,” said Massiah. “We must look carefully at how we can protect and empower women so that they go to clinic early, get tested, get treated and follow-up with their babies.”
UNAIDS Caribbean said there was also need for increased focus on young women and homosexual and bisexual men to close the gap and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.