Thailand eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV

pix 5Thailand is close to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reducing the rate to 2 percent for infected mothers and their offspring, which would place Thailand among the leading nations in effectively responding to this tragic problem, the Minister of Public Health said last week.

The rate of HIV-positive mothers passing on their infection to their children has dropped from between 20 to 45 percent in 1998 to just 2.1 percent in 2014, said Minister of Public Health Rajata Rajatanavin. The Kingdom has set a target of reducing the rate of transmission to 2 percent by 2017, and is clearly on the verge of attaining that goal.

“If the reduction rate is certified, it would make Thailand among the top countries in the world that have been able to end HIV transmission from mothers to children,” Dr. Rajata said.

The Ministry is working with various United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF to verify the results. UNICEF is the lead U.N. agency in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.

Thailand’s universal health care program has helped in achieving the reduction in transmissions, according to Nimit Tienudom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, a nongovernmental organization (NGO).

Early detection of HIV in pregnant women and availability of antiretroviral medicines are key to preventing mother-to-child transmission, and the universal health care program has made screening and care more accessible and has been providing the antiretrovirals (ARV) for about a decade.

Thailand was the first country in Asia to detect the appearance of HIV, with the first reported case in 1984. By 1991, cases of infected children were cropping up, especially in the north. The Upper North is home to 8 percent of the population, but by the mid-1990s it had 50 percent of all HIV infections in the country.

A PMTCT program was first launched in Chiang Rai in 1998 with limited results. In 2002, Aids Access was able to provide doctors in Chiang Rai with ARVs for the first time, and the program gained ground and effectiveness. With the introduction of ARVs under the universal health program, the PMTCT program began to be scaled up nationally.

If a pregnant woman is screened and found to be HIV positive, a limited regimen of ARV can prevent her from passing on her infection to her unborn child or to the child during the birthing process.

In some cases, newborns are also given ARVs for a period of time to ensure any possible infection will not develop.

In addition, HIV-positive mothers are not allowed to breast feed their children, as that is another route of transmission.

Officials from UNICEF have said that Thailand has long had the capability to prevent MTCT, but the challenge was reaching women in poor and rural areas with prenatal and antenatal care, so they could be screened and treated if positive.

Other developing countries face similar challenges. Thailand’s response to the HIV epidemic has been hailed as a model for other developing countries by the U.N.


Thailand Focus August 10, 2015

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