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Cuba first among nations to end mother-to-child HIV, syphilis
– Island nation helped by integrated, national health system
– WHO effort seeks to get rates so low they are no longer health problem
– Officials believe U.S. has met requirements as well
BY CHRIS ADAMS
cadams@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON
World health officials say Cuba has become the first country in the
world to receive validation that it has eliminated mother-to-child
transmission of HIV and syphilis.

The achievement was hailed as a breakthrough for Cuba’s women and
children and one that could serve as a public health guidebook for other
countries.

While Cuba is the first to reach the designation, several other
countries have started the process. More than 20 nations have expressed
an interest in reaching a similar designation, which came from the World
Health Organization.

The United States is believed to have met the requirements, but has not
yet requested validation, according to Massimo Ghidinelli, the top HIV
expert for the Pan American Health Organization, which helped announce
the achievement at a Tuesday press conference.

“This example will surely show that we have the technology, we have the
tools, we have the know-how of how to do it. It’s a matter now of doing
it,” said Dr. Mickey Chopra, chief of health at UNICEF, who also helped
announce the news.

He added that achieving the goal was both “a momentous achievement for
the women and children of Cuba” and “inspiring for others across the
region.”

Other world health officials called it a “major victory” that showed
“ending the AIDS epidemic is possible.”

Officials from Cuba, the World Health Organization, the Pan American
Health Organization, and other organizations made the announcement Tuesday.

According to the WHO, every year an estimated 1.4 million women living
with HIV become pregnant, and without treatment have a 15-45 percent
chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy,
labor, delivery or breastfeeding. The use of antiretroviral medicines
for both mother and child can drop that to 1 percent.

Beyond that, nearly 1 million pregnant women worldwide are infected with
syphilis annually, the WHO said. Screening and treatment during
pregnancy can eliminate much of the early fetal loss, neonatal death,
low-birth-weight infants and serious neonatal infections that can result.

For the past several years, the WHO has helped nations work to eliminate
mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Elimination is defined
as reducing infection rates to such a low level that they no longer
constitute a public health problem.

For HIV, that means fewer than two in 100 babies born to women with HIV;
for syphilis, less than one case for every 2,000 live births.

The Cuba designation included a five-day visit by world health officials
to the island nation in March to tour health centers, laboratories and
government offices.

Among other things, WHO officials said Cuba has worked to ensure early
access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both pregnant
women and their partners, as well as treatment for women who test
positive and their babies.

The WHO said that in 2013, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba,
and only three were born with congenital syphilis.

HIV births are also down throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,
dropping 45 percent from 2010 to 2013.

Six countries and territories of the Americas, in addition to Cuba, are
in a position to request validation for their elimination of
mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis: Anguilla,
Barbados, Canada, Montserrat, Puerto Rico and the U.S. the WHO said.

Chris Adams: 202-383-6071, @CAdamsMcClatchy,

Source: Cuba first among nations to end mother-to-child HIV, syphilis |
Miami Herald Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article25882027.html

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