THAILAND has become the first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.
In 2015, the number of children who became infected with HIV through mother-to-child transmission was 85 – a decline of more than 90 percent from figures in 2000, where some 1,000 children were infected with HIV, reported Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health.
According to WHO’s global guidelines, mother-to-child transmission of HIV is considered to be effectively eliminated when the rate of transmission falls below 2 percent.
— WHO (@WHO) June 7, 2016
Last year the WHO declared Cuba as the world’s first country to stamp out mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
But Thailand’s milestone is an achievement in its own: it is one of the first countries suffering from a major HIV/AIDS epidemic to achieve AIDS-free generation.
The result was made possible due to the availability of routine screenings and universal free medication for pregnant women with HIV, even in the country’s remote areas.
In 2000, Thailand was also one of the first countries in the world to provide free antiretroviral medication to all pregnant women diagnosed with HIV, including undocumented migrant workers.
The WHO said in a statement that if left untreated, mothers with HIV have a 15 to 45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, or while breastfeeding.
However, taking antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy significantly reduces those chances to just over one percent.
“Thailand’s success in achieving global WHO targets in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis belongs to everyone – all involved organisations and partners.”
– Public Health Minister Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn
He added that the next challenge would be to make the success sustainable, which will be possible through “effective leadership and management, as well as strong cross-sectoral collaboration and policy advocacy by the government”.
Dr. Daniel Kertesz, WHO representative to Thailand, said: “Thailand is one of only a few countries that have broadened universal healthcare to include migrant women, making prevention of mother-to-child transmission affordable for everyone.”
Dr. John MacArthur, CDC Thailand’s country director, remarked that Thailand’s progress in addressing the HIV epidemic “provides an example to countries in the region”.
Additional reporting by Associated Press