B+ option

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.

We know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. But without intervention nearly 40 percent of mothers with HIV/AIDS in developing countries will transmit the virus to their newborns.

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

I’d like to call attention to an important set of articles in the recent HIV/AIDS themed issue of The Lancet. Erik Schouten of Malawi Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival (BASICS) has published a commentary (free registration required) about Malawi’s push to be the first country to implement a “B+” approach to reducing mother to child transmission.

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