Babies who become infected with HIV during birth or through breastfeeding live short and difficult lives. They walk much later than non-infected babies and are less responsive. They are often undernourished, and most die before age five. Last year, according to UNAIDS, an estimated 330 000 babies contracted HIV globally. Approximately only one in four children have access to anti-retroviral medicines.
A highlight of this year’s AIDS conference is a new treatment regimen that virtually eliminates mother-tochild transmission of the virus. At Wednesday’s plenary session UNICEF’s Chewe Luo congratulated Malawi on adopting the most promising and aggressive prevention strategy.
Canadian-based organization Dignitas International, which couples frontline medical care and research in Malawi, has championed this program from the beginning and is currently aiding in its implementation. Dignitas’s research on mortality rates in mother-to-child prevention strategies supported the Malawi government’s decision to recently adopt its current program, known as Option B+. Today, the organization is working in partnership with the Ministry of Health to rollout this ‘test and treat’ strategy by training health workers to ensure all HIV-positive pregnant women are enrolled in and stay on treatment.
Current strategies to prevent transmission in Africa are not as effective because they offer women antiretroviral medications only for a short window before and after birth. Mothers are more likely to fall ill and even die after their treatment is ended, putting their children at a higher risk of malnutrition and poor health.
Option B+ ensures that all HIV-positive pregnant women – regardless of their stage of disease – are put on antiretroviral medications for life. Not only does this treatment regimen make transmission to newborns virtually impossible, it’s estimated that it will reduce the mortality of mothers by 50 to 80 per cent, according to an article published about the program in the Lancet.
“An HIV-free generation is possible because of Option B+,” says Dr. Megan Landes, an emergency medicine physician at the University Health Network and researcher with Dignitas International. “As this year’s AIDS conference comes to a close, Canadians should be proud of our front-and-centre involvement
in this groundbreaking mother-to-child prevention program.”
About Dignitas International
Dignitas International is a leading medical humanitarian organization that develops solutions for global health. Committed to innovation, Dignitas works with patients, health workers, researchers, and policymakers to tackle barriers to health care in resource-limited communities. Combining frontline expertise and rigorous research, Dignitas saves lives and upholds the health and dignity of the world’s most vulnerable by increasing access to care, strengthening health systems and shaping health policy and practice.
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