Originally published at the Huffington Post.
At this point in history, there is no reason why children should be born with HIV. Yet 390,000 infants around the globe were born with the virus in 2010.
Science has long established that providing mothers with antiretroviral drugs can prevent them from transmitting the virus to their children — as well as keeping the mothers alive themselves. What is needed is to take this intervention, available in affluent nations to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and make it available in the developing world.
The good news is that we know we can do this, in even the most challenging settings. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been the driver of a remarkable reduction in mother-to-child transmission in recent years. As we push toward the goal of an AIDS-free generation, the need is to broaden the participation in this effort.
This week marks an important opportunity to advance this goal: the Child Survival Call to Action, convened by the governments of the United States, India, and Ethiopia, in close collaboration with UNICEF. This high-level forum in Washington will bring together public and private partners to focus on one ambitious, yet simple, goal — to end preventable child deaths. It’s an inspiring vision.
Helping mothers give birth to HIV-free children is an essential piece of the puzzle of ending preventable child deaths. Beyond keeping the child alive, doing so provides wider benefits by keeping the mother healthy, and preventing the orphaning of other children in the household. Each dollar we invest has a multiplying impact.
We are encouraged that many others share our vision. One year ago, PEPFAR and the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) joined with other partners to spearhead the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New Pediatric Infections and Keeping Mothers Alive. The Global Plan’s central goal is to virtually eliminate new pediatric infections by 2015, by focusing on the 22 countries which account for 90 percent of child infections. To get there, we need unified action and leadership in these countries, at all levels. Everyone has a role to play, and we all must step up our efforts.
At PEPFAR, we are fully committed to a strong U.S. contribution to the global effort to reach the finish line. We support national programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission in over 30 countries, strengthening sustainable health system platforms of care and support, while ensuring integration with other essential programs. We are working with partner countries to promote evidence-based, holistic programs at the community level to strengthen families.
In 2011 alone, we reached 660,000 HIV-positive pregnant women with antiretroviral drugs, enabling 200,000 babies to be born HIV-free. This is encouraging progress, but we can and must do even more. At the Call to Action, new data insights, effective technologies, and country innovations will be put forward to enable the global community to focus on the countries and populations with the highest burdens and the interventions that work.
Preventing new HIV infections among children is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart investment — stretching each dollar we invest to save as many lives as we can, both today and tomorrow. By saving mothers’ lives and allowing babies to be born HIV-free we are foregoing future health care costs, stabilizing families and communities, and positively impacting economies and nations.
This is a hopeful moment in global health, including the fight against HIV/AIDS. I believe this week’s Call to Action will resonate around the world, fostering hope — and action.
Convened by the Governments of United States, Ethiopia and India, and organized in close collaboration with UNICEF, the Child Survival Call to Action will be held on June 14-15 in Washington, D.C. Focused on ending preventable child death through the survival of newborns, children and mothers, the Call to Action will convene 700 prominent leaders from government, the private sector, faith-based organizations and civil society to kick off a long-term, focused effort to save children’s lives. Please visit www.apromiserenewed.org for more information.