According to the latest report from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), published to mark World AIDS Day on November 20th, half of all reductions over the last two years have been among newborn children. This progress is being hailed by the Executive Director of UNAIDS as one of the strides forwards which show the world is “moving from despair to hope”.
Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been the worst affected by the HIV epidemic and some have seen dramatic declines in overall rates of new HIV infections. For example, since 2001, rates in Malawi have dropped by 73%, in Botswana by 68%, in Namibia by 58% and in Zambia by 50%. AIDS-related deaths across sub-Saharan Africa have also reduced by a third over the last six years, with increasing numbers of sufferers receiving antiretroviral treatment.
Rates of new infections among children have seen especially significant declines, leading the Executive Director of UNAIDS to remark “it is becoming evident that achieving zero new HIV infections in children is possible”. Across the globe, new infections in children have decreased by 24% in just the last two years. And in six African countries – Burundi, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Togo and Zambia – the number of children infected has fallen by over 40% between 2009 and 2011.
This kind of dramatic decrease is due to the greater use of antiretroviral regimens which help prevent mother-to-child transmission of the disease. For example, in Zambia, over 75% of pregnant women with HIV/AIDS are now receiving antiretroviral treatment (excluding single-dose nevirapine).
Despite this success, the goal to prevent any new HIV infections in children by 2015 will require accelerated efforts and ensuring that countries considered a priority in the Global Plan (which includes Zambia) have full HIV/AIDS programmes in place. This will involve doing more to prevent women of reproductive age from acquiring HIV infection and enabling women living with HIV to access family planning, giving them the ability to make decisions about their reproductive life. Prevention programmes also need to extend further beyond the antenatal period to include the time when women are breastfeeding.
Further investment is also needed. The domestic health budget in Zambia is 45% higher in 2012 than it was in 2011. Nevertheless, total health expenditure remains short of the 15% share of the national budget which was agreed in the Abuja Declaration.