Cuba Becomes First Country to End Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV

Michaela Whitton
July 2, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Cuba has become the first country to receive validation from the World Health Organization that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

The startling news comes as part of the organization’s “Fast Track” strategy, which aims to end the brutal epidemic by 2030. A combination of major scientific breakthroughs and the accumulation of lessons learned over more than a decade have created a strong global consensus that the tools now exist to end the epidemic.

A 2014 UNAIDS fact sheet claims there were 35 million people living with HIV in 2013. Since the epidemic began, 78 million people have been infected with HIV and 39 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses. A global health network table showing the estimates per country of adults, women, and children living with HIV can be found here. Worldwide, 16 million women live with HIV, with 1.4 million of them becoming pregnant every year.

Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.”

The World Health Organisation and various partners have worked in Cuba and other countries since 2010 to implement programmes that aim to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. According to WHO, because treatment for elimination can not be 100% successful, elimination is defined as ”a reduction of the virus to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem.”

The validation process has shown that the country was successful in meeting the internationally set criteria for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Impact indicators used in Cuba for HIV reduction were met for 2 years and saw the number of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) babies born with the HIV infection dropping to less than 50 cases per every 100,000 births. Pregnant women, both those who were and were not aware of their HIV status, must have received at least one antenatal visit. Other targets ensured that over 95% of pregnant women knew their HIV status and over 95% of positive women received antiretroviral drugs.

Cuba’s reduction of Syphilis means that the number of MTCT babies born with the infection over a year dropped to less than 50 cases per every 100,000 births. Over 2 years, over 95% of pregnant women received at least one antenatal visit, over 95% were tested for syphilis, and over 95% of those testing positive received treatment.

AIDS has become the main cause of death for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents globally. The methods used in Cuba—early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing, treatment for women and babies who test positive, access to caesarean deliveries and the substitution of breastfeeding— may not seem particularly revolutionary and are things that many in the West take for granted.

In a world where only one in four children under 15 have access to antiretroviral treatment, the fact that 2013 saw only 2 babies born with HIV and 3 with congenital syphilis in Cuba is being heralded for the achievement it is.

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