Thailand certified for freeing newborns from HIV

 

Thailand certified for freeing newborns from HIV

A mother holds her child in front of an HIV/AIDS prevention poster at the Baan Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province near the Myanmar border.

In 2006 in Thailand, the recent flood of refugees from Myanmar is taxing already overcrowded camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. To date, approximately 140,000 Myanmar refugees, nearly 40 per cent of whom are children, live in the region's nine camps. Many refugees arrive weakened by illnesses such as malaria. The dangerous journey can take months to complete. At the Baan Mai Nai Soi camp in Mae Hong Son Province, limited space forces families to live together in small, temporary structures. Some families have lived in the camp for over 15 years. Opportunities for employment are rare and those who do find work frequently leave their children unsupervised, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse, human trafficking and abduction into the armed groups of political factions located near the camps. Basic services and education are limited. The UNICEF-supported NGO, Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COEER) is working to establish protection services and centres in the camps where children can access psychosocial counselling and report abuse. UNICEF is also advocating for birth registration and surveys to locate out-of-school children, as well as providing health and hygiene kits to new mothers.

© UNICEF/UNI45819/Few

BANGKOK/ HONG KONG, 8 June 2016 – Thailand has been officially certified free of the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mothers to their children. Thailand is the first country in Asia, and among the first in the world where the rate of HIV transmission from pregnant mothers to their newborns has fallen below 2 per cent.

The rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Thailand declined from 10.3 per cent in 2003 to 1.91 per cent in 2015, according to the Ministry of Public Health. The World Health Organization (WHO) global guideline considers mother-to-child transmission of HIV to be effectively eliminated when the rate of transmission falls below 2 per cent.

According to the validation assessment by a team of regional independent experts convened by WHO and supported UNICEF, UNAIDS and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Thailand has met all elimination of mother-to-child transmission criteria for both HIV and congenital syphilis in accordance with the global targets. This concludes a validation process that took place from December 2014 to April 2016.

“Thailand’s success in achieving global WHO targets in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis belongs to everyone – all involved organizations and partners,” said Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Minister of Public Health.  “It is not only Thai mothers and children who benefit from this, but all who are residing in the Kingdom. Everyone is entitled to receive equal and effective services. However, a challenge remains: how we make this success sustainable. We’ll be able to reach that dream through effective leadership and management, as well as strong cross-sectoral collaboration and policy advocacy by the Government.”

“This remarkable achievement demonstrates Thailand’s extraordinary commitment and leadership in responding to the global pandemic,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Thailand has set an example that will inspire many other Asian countries in their efforts towards an AIDS and syphilis-free generation.”

Dr Daniel Kertesz, WHO Representative to Thailand, highlighted the fact that “the Government of Thailand’s exemplary efforts extend not only to Thai citizens, but also to migrant populations residing in Thailand.  Thailand is one of only a few countries that have broadened universal healthcare to include migrant women, making prevention of mother-to-child transmission affordable for everyone.”

“Today, not only Thai children but also children of migrants eligible for healthcare coverage face almost no risk of acquiring the virus from their mothers because of their access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission services,” UNICEF’s Davin added.

Two decades ago, globally about one in three children whose mothers had HIV were born with HIV, said Tatiana Shoumilina, Country Director of UNAIDS Thailand.  “Thailand is the first country in Asia to achieve what was deemed an impossible milestone at that time – of freeing infants of HIV as well as syphilis,” she added.

“This is an especially important public health achievement,” said Dr John MacArthur, Country Director CDC Thailand. “Thailand’s remarkable progress addressing the HIV epidemic provides an example to countries in the region and the world how we can move forward to ensure a healthier future for mothers and their children and end the HIV epidemic.”

Thailand’s success is the result of strong national ownership and sustained political commitment, the effective responses from the community, and a well-developed national health system. In Thailand, healthcare services for mothers living with HIV are fully integrated into maternal and child health programmes at hospitals and are covered by Thailand’s universal healthcare coverage.

HIV testing of pregnant women has been consistently above 95 per cent since 2013 – the highest in the Asia Pacific region – and 95 per cent of pregnant women who test positive are receiving antiretroviral drugs, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

It is now critical that Thailand maintains its elimination of mother-to-child transmission success by continuing to strengthen services for hard to reach segments of the population, such as migrants, and teenagers, to ensure early detection of HIV and treatment.