PMTCT

2012 World AIDS Day event in Port au Prince, Haiti. From left to right: Pamela White, Ambassador of the United States to Haiti; Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Sophia Martelly, First Lady of Haiti; Florence Duperval Guillaume, Minister of Public Health and Population; and Guirlaine Raymond, Director General of the Ministry of Public Health and Population. {Photo credit: C.Gilmartin/MSH.}Photo credit: C.Gilmartin/MSH.

In recent years, Haiti has endured some of the greatest misfortunes in its history, including hurricanes, floods, the devastating 2010 earthquake, and the cholera epidemic that followed. These natural disasters and public health crises have added to the harm already caused by the country’s widespread poverty, social and political unrest, and under-resourced health system. Haiti’s fragile population is further plagued by the highest HIV prevalence in the Western Hemisphere at 1.9 percent, which translates to roughly 120,000 HIV-positive individuals and 93,000 children who have lost their parents to AIDS (UNAIDS, 2011).

Malawi mother and children {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

I got a call from the resident doctor to come to exam room 6. As soon as I entered the room, I prepared myself. The little girl, 7- or maybe 8-years-old, didn't look well; she was “floppy,” combative, and not entirely aware of where she was or what we were doing to her. She was HIV-positive, and my colleague needed to get an IV line in her arm to test the latest in experimental treatments for kids with HIV– and needed the four of us interns to help hold her still.

It was 1993 during my residency in pediatrics in Cleveland, Ohio. We were at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world; it didn’t matter. The young girl died a few months later.

With the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART) a few years later, the whole world changed. The world of HIV medicine blossomed; new drugs and drug combinations literally exploded with amazing effect. HIV-positive mothers could give birth to HIV-negative babies, and HIV-positive children and their moms could get treatment.

Uganda. {Photo credit: Paydos/MSH.}Photo credit: Paydos/MSH.

The Ugandan government launched a new prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) strategy on September 12.

Uganda will transition from an approach based on the World Health Organization's (WHO) Option A --- which is contingent on an HIV-positive pregnant woman’s CD4 count --- to WHO's newest PMTCT strategy, Option B+.

Option B+ — whereby HIV-positive pregnant women receive lifelong treatment, regardless of their CD4 levels — originated in 2010 when the Malawian government decided to combine antiretroviral therapy (ART) with PMTCT in response to the challenges of providing reliable CD4 testing in remote settings.

The WHO updated its PMTCT guidelines with Option B+ in April of this year.

President William Clinton at Closing Session of AIDS 2012. {Photo credit: © IAS/Steve Shapiro - Commercialimage.net.}Photo credit: © IAS/Steve Shapiro - Commercialimage.net.

It's been nearly two weeks since former President William J. Clinton closed the last session of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) and delegates returned home.

This year's conference featured commitment and calls for an AIDS-free generation, a growing interest in Option B+, and new research towards a cure.  Here are some reflections from what we learned at AIDS 2012, where we truly started "turning the tide together".

Clinton calls for a blueprint toward an AIDS-free generation

Secretary Hilary Rodham Clinton announced significant funding towards preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, South Africa’s plan for voluntary medical male circumcision, and money for “implementation research,” civil society, and country-led plans. Sec. Clinton also called on Ambassador Eric Goosby to provide a blueprint for achieving an AIDS-free generation during her plenary address. Numerous other stakeholders echoed her commitment. But, if we really want to achieve an AIDS-free generation, the $7 billion funding gap that stands between where we are now, and where we should be, will need to be erased

Luanda, Angola. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

I am in Luanda, Angola right now, and what an interesting place. It is the most expensive city in the world: a can of coke costs $5, a car and driver for the day costs between $250-$300, and a basic hotel room with a view of people living in shacks below and cranes building more skyscrapers above is $380 (and it is difficult to find it for less).

Luanda feels like Africa mixed with Latin American and European energy and music. The traffic is bumper to bumper. It is not possible to have more than two meetings in a day because it takes that long to get from one area to another in the city. But it feels calm. Drivers in Luanda have figured out how to navigate the maze...slowly weaving in and out, letting a car in as they make a two lane road into three, and double parking with half the car on the sidewalk. Hardly anyone honks, it is hot and slow, and it feels like there is a sense of order to the chaos.

Angola is a country that has tremendous wealth, primarily derived from oil and other minerals. That wealth is controlled by an elite few, and there are wide disparities between the rich and the poor; 54% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. The public health challenges in Angola are significant. The under-five mortality rate in 2010 was 161/1,000 births, and the maternal mortality rate is 610 per 100,000 live births.

{Photo credit: MSH, South Africa.}Photo credit: MSH, South Africa.

The prospect that we may see the end of AIDS in our lifetime has never been greater. Over the last decade, the global HIV & AIDS community has achieved stunning successes, including a steady decrease in new HIV cases, a massive scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART), and proof that treatment is prevention. As we begin the XIX International AIDS Conference, we are also excited by new scientific advances in prevention and treatment, such as Option B+  for prevention of maternal-to-child transmission (PMTCT). As new possibilities develop, we must also build on the successes of the last decade. Only by "turning the tide together" through the simultaneous pursuit of new possibilities, leveraging of proven interventions for scale and sustainability, and strengthening of health systems overall, can we hope to reach our goal of ending the HIV & AIDS epidemic.

AIDSChat 2012AIDSChat 2012

USAID and partners are hosting a Twitter chat in preparation for the 19th International AIDS Conference. The began at 10 am EDT and continues throughout the day.

Management Sciences for Health (MSH) will be co-hosting from 2:00 - 2:30 pm on the topic of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV with Scott Kellerman, MD, MPH, tweeting from .

Anna outside Kaginima Hospital, eastern Uganda. {Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.

“I knew I wanted to be a nurse since I was 10. A woman used to come home to my village in her nurse uniform on the weekends and she was so smart and nice. It was my goal,” said Anna.

Anna finished nursing school and her formal training in 1998 and started working in 1999. In 2000, she began working at Kaginima Hospital in eastern Uganda, where she still works today.

Kaginima Hospital is an expanding facility and uniquely has a lot of space for patients and services. The facility has a surgical theater with two beds and is well stocked with medical supplies. As a private, nonprofit hospital, Kaginima does not receive any support from the Ugandan government. The hospital relies on support from USAID, international organizations, faith-based organizations, and local nongovernmental organizations. They also charge nominal fees for the services directly to patients.

Three Afghan children. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

About 7.6 million children under age five die each year of preventable causers; 3 million — 40 percent — are newborns (under 28 days old). Ninety-nine percent of these occur in developing countries; three-quarters are mainly due to preventable causes such as neonatal conditions, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles. Many of these under-five deaths could be averted by known, affordable, low-technology interventions.

Any preventable child death is one too many.

Here are 10 important interventions for child survival --- a list that is by no means exhaustive:

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding

    Could keep 1.3 million infants from dying (including by preventing pneumonia)

  2. Long-lasting, insecticide-treated bednets

    Would save more than 500,000 children by preventing malaria

  3. Vaccines, such as PCV, Hib, and rotavirus

    Would help prevent common childhood illnesses, such as measles, and save children’s lives

  4. Micronutrient supplements, such as vitamin A and zinc

    Would fight malnutrition. (While not a direct cause of death, malnutrition contributes indirectly to more than one-third of these deaths.)

Scott Kellerman, around age 5. {Photo courtesy of S. Kellerman.}Photo courtesy of S. Kellerman.

The prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is taking center stage this week during USAID’s 5th Birthday campaign -- and rightly so.  Preventing mother to child transmission of HIV is one of the most critical, effective tools to helping kids reach their fifth birthdays.

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