Thailand awarded for reducing HIV transmission to children


The World Health Organization (WHO) has given Thailand an award for nearly eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, marking another public health success story for the Kingdom.

Thailand has been able to lower the HIV infection rate in newborn babies of HIV-positive pregnant women to less than 2 percent, or fewer than 50 children per year. This translates into saving as many as 3,500 children annually from being infected with HIV from their mothers. The WHO attributed this success to the strength of Thailand’s public health system.

The keys to preventing mothers from transmitting HIV to their as yet unborn children are knowledge of the HIV status of the mother and using a regimen of drugs during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. The correct regimen can reduce the possibility of transmission to extremely small levels.

Thailand has been a pioneer in the research and practice of PMTCT, or prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Kingdom was among the countries in Asia hardest hit by the HIV epidemic in the 1990s. At the time, few treatments were available and a positive diagnosis was essentially a death sentence.

In 1997, doctors at a hospital in northern Chiang Rai province launched a program using the drugs AZT and Nevirapine on HIV-positive pregnant women. “The results were remarkable,’’ said Dr. Rawiwan Hansudewechakul, who supervised the program. Transmission rates in the province dropped from 21 percent in 1993 to zero by 2008.

With more effective drugs, the government expanded the program nationwide and other countries replicated it. Totally eliminating mother-to-child transmission has proven to be a challenge because not every pregnant woman gets tested for HIV. But Thailand has come as close as any country to achieving that goal.