Sub-Saharan Africa, the region that has been hit the hardest by the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, is making important progress toward lessening the effects of the virus. Since 2009, seven of those African nations have cut their rates of children’s HIV infections in half, the United Nations AIDS program announced on Tuesday.
Those countries include Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia. All of them are considered “priority nations” in the UN’s fight to combat AIDS. According to a new UNAIDS report, the 21 priority nations in Africa have seen a 38 percent drop in new HIV infections among children over the past four years.
The children who do become infected still struggle to access the HIV drugs they need. Only about three out of every ten HIV-positive children in most priority countries are getting treatment. Those numbers are “unacceptably low,” according to UNAIDS.
Still, the report signals good news. “The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that with focused efforts every child can be born free from HIV,” Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, said.
Global officials attribute the dramatic drop in children’s HIV infections to the increased availability of antiretroviral treatments that can prevent HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus to their children. Much of the international effort to eradicate the epidemic has focused on preventing pediatric AIDS with this type of drug treatment. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that thanks to this global push, one million HIV-free babies have now been born to mothers who have the virus.
In the United States, infected mothers can typically receive drug treatment as part of their prenatal care (although regional and economic disparities ensure that’s not always true, particularly in the rural South). Maternal health care — as well as preventative care, like contraception — often isn’t as widely available to women in developing nations. Last week, Kerry announced new funding for sub-Saharan Africa in an attempt to bolster these medical resources and continue the recent positive trends.