Funding falling short in preventing mother-to-child infection of HIV

08:03, July 26, 2010      

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Funding shortages are still a major challenge in preventing HIV infection among newborns despite progress made in some countries, an AIDS expert says.

Jimmy Kolker, chief of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund's HIV/AIDS section, told Xinhua in a recent interview that mother-to-child transmissions have been low in western countries.

"But (in) many other parts of the world there are still 30 or 40 percent of newborns who are getting infected if they are borne by HIV-positive mothers," Kolker said.

"What's happened is also that because of economic difficulties and because AIDS has been around for a long time that those resources seem to ... stop increasing," Kolker said.

The UNICEF expert said that means that people "need to look for new sources of revenue to be sure that they were serving those already on treatment, but plus on preventing new infections, plus dealing with children who may be children of HIV-positive parents who are risky of dying or the children have special needs, so all of these things require even more money than we have now."

Nevertheless, there has been remarkable progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, he said.

"The coverage of mothers with drugs to prevent transmission to newborns (in 2008) was four times greater than that was in 2004," he said.

In many countries where the birth rate is high, such as Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, the number of newborns with HIV is going down dramatically.

Botswana reaches under 3 percent transmission from mother to child where "if nothing has been down, it would be 30-40 percent of the newborns born HIV-positive," Kolker said.

At present there are UNICEF programs aimed at eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.

"These programs have been scaled up in every country, and the idea that by 2015 there would be no or very few new infections in newborns," Kolker said.

He said it was very important to make it clear that prevention is extremely critical.

"We'll never be able to treat everyone if we do not stop the number of new infections as well," he said.
Discrimination of people living with HIV, which still remains "very much present," continues to be a major issue, Kolker said.

"They make it difficult for those people who are living with HIV to get services they need, and they also make it difficult for the prevention messages to reach those who are might engaging in behaviors that put themselves at risk of contracting HIV," he said.

Kolker also talked about AIDS prevention and control in China. He pointed out that China is a country with a large population, and therefore with a great number of people at risk living with HIV.

Those groups are not equally distributed around the population because of its huge area, which makes the prevention and control of HIV more difficult.

During the interview, Kolker praised the moves made by the Chinese government concerning AIDS prevention and treatment.

"The medical services in China are good, and the question of government's commitment is good," he said.
Meanwhile, Kolker also pointed out that the problem of discrimination involving AIDS and people living with HIV also exists in China.

"The question of stigma and the exclusion may be the biggest challenge," he said, "The number of children who are infected with HIV in China is smaller proportionally than other places, but this is a risk that we really have to take seriously."

AIDS is not only the problem for people living with HIV, or any other individuals. The exclusion of such groups in their communities is not helpful to eliminate new infections.

He also pointed out that drug use is a key way of HIV transmission in China. That's because many women then have a sexual relationship with drug users who are infected with HIV, and then transmit the HIV to newborns.

"Being sure that they have access to services and the services are good quality and the workers themselves are treating those people with the best quality services is very important to reverse the epidemic in China," Kolker said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王寒露)

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