Thailand Free of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission, Health Agencies Certify

BenarNews Staff
160608-TH-baby-1000 A one-year-old afflicted with AIDS sleeps at a Bangkok shelter housing 59 HIV-infected children, Dec. 1, 1999.

Updated at 10:57 a.m. ET on 2016-06-08

Thailand has effectively eliminated the danger of mothers transmitting HIV and syphilis to their newborns, the Thai Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international public health agencies announced Wednesday.

Thailand is officially certified as “free of the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mothers to children,” after Thailand became the first Asian country where the national rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission fell below 2 percent last year, officials from those agencies said in a joint news release.

“Today, not only Thai children but also children of migrants eligible for healthcare coverage face almost no risk of acquiring the virus from their mothers because of their access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission services,” said Thomas Davin, the representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Thailand.

“This remarkable achievement demonstrates Thailand’s extraordinary commitment and leadership in responding to the global pandemic,” he said. “Thailand has set an example that will inspire many other Asian countries in their efforts towards an AIDS and syphilis-free generation.”

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, can cause AIDS, a disease that has afflicted Thailand and many other countries for decades. According to WHO, 36.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS in 2014, and 1.2 million people died of related illnesses that year.

In Thailand, some 450,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2014, but the HIV infection rate has fallen from 140,000 new cases of infection in 1991 to 7,800 new cases two years ago, Saya Oka, an official with UNAIDS Regional Support Team in Bangkok, told BenarNews.

A WHO global guideline considers the threat of the mother infecting her child with HIV to be effectively eliminated when the rate falls below 2 percent. In Thailand, the rate fell from 10.3 percent in 2003 to 1.91 percent in 2015, said the release issued early Wednesday morning (Bangkok time).

Two decades ago, globally about one out of every three children whose mothers had HIV were born with the virus, said Tatiana Shoumilina, the country director for UNAIDS.

“Thailand is the first country in Asia to achieve what was deemed an impossible milestone at that time – of freeing infants of HIV as well as syphilis,” she said.

Dr. Daniel Kertesz, WHO’s representative in Thailand, praised “the Government of Thailand’s exemplary efforts extend not only to Thai citizens, but also to migrant populations residing in Thailand.”

“Thailand is one of only a few countries that have broadened universal healthcare to include migrant women, making prevention of mother-to-child transmission affordable for everyone,” he said.

In Thailand, where there is universal healthcare coverage, services for HIV-infected mothers are entirely integrated into maternal and pediatric programs at hospitals, the release noted.

‘A challenge remains’

WHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were among the international public health agencies that joined Thai health officials in announcing Thailand’s achievement of the milestone.

The certification was a two-year process in which WHO convened a team of regional and independent health experts to validate that Thailand had met all criteria for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and congenital syphilis, the release said.

“Thailand’s success in achieving global WHO targets in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis belongs to everyone – all involved organizations and partners,” said Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Thailand’s Minister of Public Health. It is not only Thai mothers and children who benefit from this, but all who are residing in the Kingdom.”

“However, a challenge remains: how we make this success sustainable. We’ll be able to reach that dream through effective leadership and management, as well as strong cross-sectoral collaboration and policy advocacy by the government,” Piysakol added.


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