Date Published: 28 November 2008

Early HIV testing and treatment can save newborn lives

Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV, according to a report released by the United Nations children's Fund (UNICEF) and three partner UN agencies today.

Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report, is a report jointly prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), released on World Aids Day.
Early Infant Diagnosis of HIV

According to the report, the majority of infants exposed to HIV in low income countries are not tested until they are 18 months old because standard HIV antibody testing picks up the mother's antibodies in babies up until that age. However, newer technology in the form of ?Dry Blood Spot' (DBS) tests for Polymerase Chain reaction (PCR) testing of DNA can test babies for HIV as early as 6 weeks old, meaning they could be put on life saving anti retroviral drugs sooner if they are found to be HIV positive. Despite this, in 2007, less than 10% of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were tested for HIV before they were two months old. The report advocates for increased testing to enable appropriate treatments to begin as early as possible.

Dry Blood Spot testing involves taking a small drop of blood from the infant, drying it for 24 hours, and then taking it to a lab which has a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine to test and within 2 weeks the baby could have its results. No cold chain is required.

UNICEF UK's Chief Executive David Bull said:

?Without treatment, half of all children with HIV will die by their second birthday. But if they are diagnosed and put on treatment within their first 12 weeks of live, survival rates are 75% higher. Early diagnosis can save lives.?

?UNICEF UK is calling on the UK Government, directly and through its influence in the international community, to work to ensure that every infant exposed to HIV is diagnosed and put on treatment as early as possible. Early infant diagnosis is a lifesaving and cost effective intervention which needs to be scaled up urgently, within the wider goal of reaching universal access to treatment, prevention, care and protection for all by 2010.?

Funding gap

In 2007, just $10 billion was available from all sources for the international response to AIDS leaving a gap of $8.1 billion in 2007 between the resources needed for the HIV and AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries and the resources that were available from all sources. This gap has been increasing over the past few years.

According to UNAIDS 2007 figures, it is projected that $30.2 billion is needed in 2009 and $42.2 billion is needed in 2010 to achieve the goal of universal access by 2010, with more required in the following years.

In 2007, 30 low- and middle-income countries were using dried blood spot filter testing, up from 17 countries in 2005. This includes countries hardest hit by HIV and AIDS, such as Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. However, increased funds are required to be able to test every infant exposed to HIV.

Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV

Still too few pregnant women know their HIV status in the first place. In 2007, only 18% of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were tested for HIV and of those who tested positive, only 12% were further screened to determine the stage of their HIV and the type of treatment they require. If they don't know they're HIV positive, women cannot access the health services that prevent them passing HIV to their babies, their infants status remains unknown and if they are HIV positive they won't receive the treatment they need.

?The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is not only effective, but also a human right,”said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot. ?We are seeing good progress in many countries, especially in parts of Africa, but we need to significantly scale up HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women.?

Report findings

The report, Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report is the third review of progress on how AIDS affects children and young people since UNICEF and partners launched a campaign, Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS focsued on paediatric treatment of HIV, protection of orphans, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and prevention. Today's report tracks progress made on all four of these areas. Acknowledging the efforts made by all those working in response to HIV and AIDS, the report advocates for:

* An increase in programmes that provide early infant diagnosis of HIV to enable appropriate treatments to begin earlier
* More access to antiretroviral drugs for pregnant women in need of treatment
* Integration of HIV and AIDS services with primary health care programmes
* Improved quality of information for mothers on infant feeding and HIV in many countries
* Expanded protection and care for the approximately 15 million children globally who have lost either one or both of their parents due to AIDS.
* Combined prevention programmes that are more relevant to young people and adolescents
* A greater understanding of the vulnerability of girls to HIV


Source: UNICEF Main Website.
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