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Early HIV testing can save newborn lives - UNICEF

Early HIV testing & treatment can save newborn lives -- report

Wellington, 1 December 2008. – Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV, according to an international report released today by UNICEF and other UN agencies.

The report “Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report”, was jointly prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, and the UN Population Fund. Its release coincides with World AIDS Day.

“Without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday,” says Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF’s New York-based Executive Director.

“Survival rates are up to 75 per cent higher for HIV-positive newborns who are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks.”

In 2007, however, less than 10 per cent of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were tested for HIV before they were two months old. The report advocates for increased testing to enable appropriate treatments to begin as early as possible.

The report indicates that far too few pregnant women know their HIV status. In 2007, only 18 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were given an HIV test, and of those who tested positive, only 12 per cent were further screened to determine the stage of HIV disease and the type of treatment they require.

The report also recommends increased access to tests assessing immune functions of HIV-positive mothers to determine their stage of HIV disease and provide a basis for decisions about appropriate treatment that addresses their own health needs and reduces the chance of the virus being passed to their offspring.

Significant numbers of young people continue to be infected with HIV each year. In 2007, 45 per cent of the global infections occur in the 15–24 year-old age group, indicating a need for expanded information and education, as well as better access to sexual and reproductive health services.

UNICEF NZ Executive Director Dennis McKinlay says that the report is an important contribution to updating data on progress and emerging evidence relating to children and HIV-AIDS.

“Unfortunately, a lack of available data means that little is known about the situation of countries in the Pacific.

“Of the Pacific countries included in the report, the majority do not include any HIV-AIDS-related information.

“A notable exception is Papua New Guinea, which is estimated to have up to 2,100 HIV-infected pregnant women, with only 84 reported to be receiving anti-retroviral treatment.”

“At the same time, up to 1,200 children under 14 years of age are reported to be living with HIV, yet only 185 are receiving anti-retroviral treatment.”

Mr McKinlay says that the Papua New Guinea figures are worrying and more needs to be known about the situation in other Pacific countries in order to more effectively combat HIV-AIDS.


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