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Cuba Wipes Out Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission by Emphasizing Maternal Health and Universal Health Coverage, Says WHO

July 6, 2015

After a flurry of reports surfaced earlier this year that Cuba was the host of a particularly aggressive strain of HIV, the Caribbean island is now being lauded by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Cuba's victory, according to the WHO press release, is due to its universal health care system, which seeks to emphasize equity, access and maternal health. As part of a regional initiative undertaken with WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), women in Cuba who become pregnant are ensured early access to prenatal care and are tested for HIV and syphilis while pregnant. Their partners are tested as well. Those who test HIV positive are treated right away. Other services include caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding with formula.

WHO and PAHO have been working since 2010 to implement such regional programs throughout Cuba and other countries in the Americas to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

"Cuba's success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV," said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne, M.B.B.S., via the press release. "Cuba's achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmissions of HIV and syphilis."

"Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible," added WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, M.D. "This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation."

Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, echoed Chan's praise. "This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere," he said in the press release. "It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children."

In order to receive WHO validation as the first country globally to stop mother-to-child HIV transmission, Cuba underwent a rigorous process that included a March 2015 visit from WHO ambassadors to its health centers, laboratories and government offices to interview health officials. The process also ensures that human rights are upheld throughout the initiative and that treatment and services are provided without coercion.

Cuba's achievement is the first of what WHO believes will be a number of countries to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis. It is part of a global emphasis on treating women in order to keep them healthy and to keep their children healthy and free from HIV and syphilis. To that end, WHO launched an initiative to eliminate congenital syphilis in 2007, and in 2011 UNAIDS and WHO partnered to launch a plan to end new HIV infections among children.

Globally, seven out of 10 HIV-positive pregnant women now receive effective medication to keep them healthy and drastically increase the chance that their children will be HIV negative. Eight of the countries hardest-hit by the HIV epidemic have reduced new HIV infections among children by over 50% since 2009, while another four are within arm's reach of that goal.

To read more specifics on the validation process and the markers that Cuba had to meet to get this validation, please check out the World Health Organization's website.

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for and You can follow him on Twitter at @mathewrodriguez, like his Facebook page or visit him on his personal website.

Copyright © 2015 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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