By Marie Claire Williams
BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Six Caribbean islands made health history on Friday, when they were officially recognised by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for their success in eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat have followed the lead of Cuba, which became the first Caribbean country to achieve that goal in 2015.
Their achievement is a culmination of regional efforts following the 2010 launch of the In 2010 the regional initiative for the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and congenital Syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean, by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
They were to be validated at a ceremony to be held in St Kitts, as part of activities marking World AIDS Day, December 1, 2017.
“On this day the Caribbean signals to the world that our region can be the first to end new HIV infections among children,” host Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris said ahead of the event.
National AIDS Programme Coordinator, Gardenia Destang-Richardson, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that health officials in the twin-island federation have been working for the past 12 years to reduce the transmission of the virus from expectant mothers to their unborn children.
“We put in place a programme within our maternal and child health where pregnant mothers were tested and provided with the requisite treatment if they should be tested positive.
“So we’ve been doing this from 2005. As of 2013, we started what is known as Option B plus. Basically when a woman is pregnant, she is placed in treatment, she stays in treatment for life, we do not take them off treatment,” she said.
Antigua, meanwhile started its own campaign to reduce mother to child transmission in 1999.
‘It was always something that we have been working towards. We never wanted to have a mother who is HIV positive, or who has Syphilis, pass on those conditions to their baby. And so we have had a very effective programme over the past years, making sure that every HIV or Syphilis positive woman is not only tested, but treated,” AIDS Programme Manager, Delcora Williams said.
According to PAHO, since 2010 new HIV infections have dropped by 52 per cent among children in the Caribbean, from 1,800 in 2010 to fewer than 1,000 in 2016.
Reported cases of congenital syphilis remain below the target of having no more than 50 cases per 100,000 live births.
“Although they have not declined since 2010, it is likely there is underreporting of cases,” a statement from PAHO said.
PAHO technical advisor, Sandra Jones, said she is looking forward to the region achieving even more public health goals in the future.
“We have started the elimination of the mother to child transmission of HIV, and so it is telling us that we could really eliminate HIV and Syphilis as public health problems,” Jones said.
The elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and Syphilis is a significant milestone for the six islands, as it puts them on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of ending AIDS and sexually transmitted infections by 2030.
PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, said other member states in the Caribbean are on course to be validated next year. – CMC