The World Health Organization has announced that Thailand became the first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, a milestone in the fight against the disease. The announcement is a boost for a generation of Thai health workers who have transformed the nation from one of Asia’s most HIV-ravaged societies to a pin-up for how to effectively tackle the crisis.
Describing the elimination as a “remarkable achievement”, the WHO said Thailand was “the first (country) with a large HIV epidemic to ensure an AIDS-free generation.” Belarus and Armenia were also declared free of mother-to-baby HIV transmissions. Previously Cuba was the only other country to have eliminated mother-to-child transmission under the WHO’s criteria back in July 2015.
If left untreated, mothers with HIV have a 15-45 per cent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, childbirth or while breastfeeding. But taking antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy significantly reduces those chances to just over one percent. In 2000 Thailand became one of the first countries in the world to provide free antiretroviral medication to all pregnant women diagnosed with HIV.
According to Thai government figures, the number of babies born with HIV has dropped from 1,000 in 2000 to just 85 last year, a large enough fall for the WHO to declare mother-to-child transmission over. It is a major turnaround for Thailand.
Each year, 1.4 million women living with HIV around the world become pregnant. The number of children born annually with HIV was 400,000 in 2009. By 2013, the number was down to 240,000.