Bangkok, June 8 (IANS) Thailand has become the first Asian country to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Wednesday.
Calling the achievement “remarkable” and “a critical step for rolling back the HIV epidemic”, the WHO hailed the Thai government’s efforts to prevent the transmission of the global pandemic, which previously affected one in three babies born to HIV-positive mothers, EFE news reported.
“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,” said Tatiana Shoumilina, country director of UNAIDS Thailand in a statement.
Around 21,000 HIV-positive children are born annually in Asia Pacific, which is also home to roughly 200,000 affected minors.
According to the WHO, an HIV-infected women has a 15-45 per cent risk of transmitting the virus to her children during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding, but the risk drops to 1 per cent if she receives antiretroviral drugs during these periods.
Thailand’s Ministry of Health noted that now 98 per cent of HIV-infected women have access to antiretroviral drugs and the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission has fallen below 2 per cent.
In 2000, an estimated 1,000 children were infected with HIV, a number that had diminished by 90 per cent in 2015 with only 85 new child cases in a country that registered 450,000 HIV patients the previous year.
In addition to slashing the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission, the number of HIV-infected women has also fallen from 15,000 new cases annually in 2000 to 1,900 in 2014 – an 87 per cent reduction in less than two decades.
The UN has hailed the Thai public health system, which ensures universal access to medical care and provides HIV treatment to both Thai and non-Thai citizens, for playing a key role in combating the spread of HIV.
“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,” said Thomas Davin, the Unicef Representative for Thailand.