One Million HIV-Free Babies Have Now Been Born To Mothers Who Have The Virus

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In a milestone for the global fight against the AIDS epidemic, this month will mark the one millionth HIV-free baby born to a mother who suffers from the virus. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry credited much of the progress toward preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission to the significant work that the U.S. President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has accomplished over the past decade.

“When this disease appeared to be unstoppable, history will show that humanity and individual humans rose to the challenge,” Kerry said in a speech to commemorate PEPFAR’s 10th anniversary. “Action was taken. Innovations were discovered. Hope was kindled. And generations were saved.”

PEPFAR was signed into law by former President George W. Bush and remains one of the largest foreign assistance programs in the world. Thanks to many of the global health resources made available through the U.S.-run program, new HIV infections are down nearly 20 percent over the past decade. Last year, United Nations officials noted that they believe eradicating AIDS is “entirely feasible” thanks to the global community’s dedicated efforts against the epidemic.

One of the most important methods of containing the virus’ spread is preventing pediatric AIDS. Thanks to advances in HIV drugs, antiretroviral treatment can now successfully prevent HIV-positive mothers from transmitting the virus to their children in the womb or through their breast milk. According to the State Department, PEPFAR programs helped more than 750,000 pregnant women living with HIV get access to antiretroviral drugs in 2012. That helped avert an estimated 230,000 infant HIV infections last year.

According to a PEPFAR analysis, 13 countries are now at their AIDS “tipping point” — the point at which the annual increase in adults infected with HIV is lower than the annual increase in adults who are receiving antiretroviral treatment. “Where we once saw a situation spiraling out of control, today we see a virtuous cycle beginning to form: more people receiving treatment and fewer people passing on the virus,” Kerry explained.

But, even though the Secretary of State announced new funding for PEPFAR’s programs in sub-Saharan Africa on Tuesday, some AIDS prevention workers have been growing increasingly concerned that the international aid program is going underfunded. The White House has repeatedly proposed cuts to the program in its annual budgets, and PEPFAR is not immune to sequestration. “When the mandated sequestration cut is taken into account, the program is now at its lowest funding level since 2007,” Chris Collins, the Vice President and Director of Public Policy for amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, warned in a recent editorial.