United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Representative, Robert Fuderich, has lauded the Ministry of Health for its success in reducing the mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica to less than five per cent over the last 10 years.
Speaking at the launch of the National Paediatric AIDS Elimination Initiative, held at the Wyndham Hotel in New Kingston on December 21, Mr. Fuderich said this is tremendous progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
He noted that across the world, new infections amongst children have declined from 550,000 in 2001 to 390,000 in 2010. Also, about half of the pregnant women with HIV/AIDS worldwide are receiving anti-retroviral drugs if they need it, to prevent transmission of the virus to their unborn children, he said.
“Imagine that ten years ago, 25 per cent of the babies born to HIV infected mothers here in Jamaica, were infected. Today, less than five per cent of babies are now being born with HIV/AIDS,” he noted.
“That’s incredible progress. These are real results and real progress and UNICEF congratulates the Ministry of Health for its leadership in this area,” Mr. Fuderich added.
The UNICEF representative said, however, that while this is good news, “we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, as we still have a lot of work to do to reach the babies who are still being born with HIV.”
He said that as such, biomedical interventions, which seek to prevent vertical transmission of the disease from mother to child, are critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Fuderich said the National Paediatric AIDS Elimination Initiative is, therefore, an important project, which also represents a renewed commitment to the children of Jamaica by the Ministry of Health.
The programme, which is being implemented in collaboration with the University of the West Indies and the National Health Fund (NHF), is geared towards the total elimination of vertical mother to child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis in Jamaica by 2015.
Mr. Fuderich pledged the support of UNICEF to the success of the programme, further pointing out that health officials must also start looking beyond 2015.“We must plan for the sustainability of these gains, even as we seek to ride out the turbulent financial conditions, which Jamaica and the rest of the world will face,” he said.
Meanwhile, Acting Chief Executive Officer, National Health Fund (NHF), Cecil White, said the agency is pleased to support the initiative through a grant of approximately US$500,000.
“This grant will help to support the management of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in maternal, neonatal and child health,” he pointed out.
Mr. White said he hopes the grant will also help the University Hospital of the West Indies to maintain its laboratory capacity, so that it can continue its work, particularly in the area of early detection of the disease.