Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WHO cites improvement in battling AIDS

A new study from the World Health Organization points out the great strides made in recent years in combating HIV/AIDS. Increased funding to the US PEPFAR program, and the Global Fund have helped to improve testing, survival, and transmission. In the last couple of years, contributions to those two programs have either flat-lined or decreased. This study gives more evidence to how important continued donations of aid can be in helping people live through AIDS.

From the IPS, writer Susan Anyangu-Amu focuses on how mother to child transmissions of AIDS have improved in recent years.

According to a new report Towards Universal Access, the proportion of pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa who received an HIV test increased from 43 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009. The report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS assessed HIV/AIDS progress in 144 low- and middle-income countries.

It found an estimated 24 percent of the approximately 125 million pregnant women in these countries received an HIV test in 2009, an increase from 21 percent in 2008 and eight percent in 2005. Fifty-four percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa received antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission to their children in 2009, up from 45 percent in 2008.

Speaking to IPS during the launch of the report in Nairobi on Sep.28, UNICEF regional director Elhadj As Sy said the progress made in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission is testimony of the fact that virtual elimination by 2015 is achievable.

"What we need is strong political leadership, funding, good programs and activism. If we build on the progress and with renewed commitment we are well on our way to achieving virtual elimination by 2015," Sy said. However, despite the progress there are still challenges with disparities between regions and within countries.

Four countries in the region report providing HIV testing and counselling to over 80 percent of pregnant women. They are South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. These countries have already reached the target set at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). This is the target of providing 80 percent of pregnant women in need of treatment with antiretroviral drugs to reduce transmission to their children.

Despite the marked progress, countries in Eastern and Southern Africa fared better than their counterparts in West and Central Africa. In Eastern and Southern Africa, 50 percent of pregnant women received HIV testing and counselling, an increase from 43 percent in 2008. In Western and Central Africa, coverage increased from 16 percent to 21 percent between 2008 and 2009.

"While the figures in Western and Central Africa are low, this does not mirror failure on their part. The burden of HIV/AIDS has leaned heavily on Eastern and Southern Africa and this is where most interventions have been directed. Western and Central Africa are just beginning to pick up the problem and their burden of the epidemic is lower," said Dr. David Okello. Okello is director, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Cluster at the WHO regional office for Africa.

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