“By 2015, let us end the transmission of HIV from mother to child. This is not a dream: we can do it.”
The Global Fund Ambassador
With that simple statement from Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy as its guiding principle, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has launched Born HIV Free. The goal of this new initiative is straightforward – stop the mother-to-child transmission of HIV. As Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy notes, this goal is achievable. We have at our disposal the means of protecting our children from infection.
When an HIV+ woman becomes pregnant and gives birth, the virus can be transmitted to the infant during gestation, during delivery, or through subsequent breast-feeding. These types of transmission collectively are referred to as mother-to-child transmission. The terms vertical transmission and perinatal transmission also may be used.
We now know that relatively simple and relatively cheat antiviral regimens can dramatically reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission. In a 1999 study, Dr. Mary Lou Lindegren and colleagues noted that rates of perinatal transmission dropped significantly in concert with zidovudine (AZT) treatment for the mothers. With the development of better drug regimens, these drops in transmission rates have continued. According to the CDC, an estimated 1,650 HIV-infected infants were born in the US in 1991. In 2004, that number had dropped to less than 200.
This success, however, has not been mirrored in developing countries. The causes of this disparity are several-fold. The most important factors affecting the continued problem of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in developing countries include access to treatment and access to testing. In recent years, antiretroviral drugs have become more available throughout the developing world, thanks, in large part, to the influx of money from sources such as the United States PEPFAR program and the United Nation’s Global Fund. Additionally, other groups, most notably the Clinton Foundation, have fought hard to make these drugs more affordable. But we need to do more. Too many HIV+ women still do not have access to the necessary treatments.
In addition to making drugs more available, we also must work diligently to increase the levels of testing. Treatment to prevent perinatal transmission requires that women know their HIV status.
To find out more about the Born HIV Free campaign, please visit their website at http://www.bornhivfree.org. Let’s join Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy in ending the transmission of HIV from mother to child.