Testing Newborns for HIV Can Save Lives
December 2, 2008
On World AIDS Day, four UN agencies reported that earlier diagnosis and treatment of HIV-infected newborns can boost their survival rate. However, many now slip through the cracks of poor health care systems, the agencies said.
In 2007, just 18 percent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were screened for HIV, and of those who were positive, just 12 percent were assessed for treatment. Less than 10 percent of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were screened for HIV before their second month, the UN reported.
"Without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday," said Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF. "Survival rates are up to 75 percent higher for HIV-positive newborns who are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks."
"Today, no infants should have to die of AIDS," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. "We know how to prevent these tragic deaths, but now we need to focus on strengthening our health care systems to ensure that all mothers and children receive treatment as early as possible."
Early infant HIV testing has been scaled up in hard-hit countries, including in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zambia, according to the report.