New HIV infections among infants declines in Malawi

Malawi has made strides in reducing infant HIV infections with a latest UNICEF report showing that new infections among infants has declined by almost 52 percent between 2009 and 2012.

However, the UNICEF report released Friday shows alarming trends among adolescents but says that new infections among adolescents could be halved by 2020 with targeted and increased investment

The report attributes the progress in the reduction of new infections in infants to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV initiative, resulting in more than 850,000 new childhood infections being averted globally between 2005 and 2012 in low- and middle-income countries.

The report entitled Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS raises an alarm on adolescents, citing the need for increased global and national efforts to address HIV and AIDS among this vulnerable age group.

A Malawian child, suffering from HIV, breast-feeds at the Zomba NRU (Nutritional and Rehabilitation Unit),

Reads the report in part: “AIDS-related deaths amongst adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 worldwide increased by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012, rising from 71,000 to 110,000, in stark contrast to progress made in preventing mother-to-child transmission. There were approximately 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV in 2012. In Malawi, 49,000 adolescent girls and 42,000 adolescent boys are living with HIV, with 6,700 new infections in 2012 among adolescents aged 15-19.”

The report further says that with additional funding and increased investment in innovation, many of the challenges could be overcome.

An analysis featured in the report shows that by increasing investment in high-impact interventions to about US$5.5 billion by 2014, 2 million adolescents, particularly girls, could avoid becoming infected by 2020. Investments in 2010 were US$3.8 billion worldwide.

“Prevention of HIV among adolescents is top on our agenda .This is a group we haven’t managed to influence in past years. We are now working with government and NGOs, using innovative approaches to reach vulnerable adolescents,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Malawi Country Representative

She said with such new approaches, generated by young people themselves, UNICEF aims to prevent infections and see a reverse in the current trend.

High-impact interventions include condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision, communications for behaviour change, and targeted approaches for at-risk and marginalized populations. This is in addition to investments in other sectors such as education, social protection and welfare, and strengthening health systems.

In contrast to adolescents, progress has been impressive in the area of preventing new HIV infections among infants. Some 260,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2012, compared to 540,000 in 2005.

“This report reminds us that an AIDS-free generation is one in which all children are born free of HIV and remain so––from birth and throughout their lives––and it means access to treatment for all children living with HIV,” said Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

“It also reminds us that women’s health and well-being should be at the centre of the AIDS response. I have no doubt that we will achieve these goals,” he added.

Simplified life-long antiretroviral treatment (known as Option B+), pioneered by Malawi and adopted by several other countries has assisted 60 percent of pregnant women living with HIV in Malawi receiving antiretroviral treatment for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

The new report also emphasizes that for an AIDS-free generation to become a reality, more children living with HIV should receive antiretroviral treatment.

In Malawi almost 180,000 children aged 0-14 years are estimated to be living with HIV. 100,000 of these require treatment, but only 36 percent are currently receiving treatment.

Innovations and new ways of working are making testing and treatment more accessible, effective and efficient. One example is the use of mobile phones in Malawi and Zambia to quickly deliver HIV test results. This has allowed mothers to receive diagnoses for their babies much faster than through results delivered by hand.

The challenge now is to apply the knowledge that already exists, continue to focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and adolescents, and pursue new opportunities and innovations—while using finite resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.


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