Thailand Stops Mother-To-Child HIV And Syphilis Transmission – WHO Applauds Country’s Commitment To Public Health

Thailand has successfully stopped the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child. The country has won the official approval of World Health Organization (WHO) for its commitment to public health.

The WHO has congratulated Thailand on becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to have successfully halted the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to her child during pregnancy. Statistically speaking, Thailand has brought down the HIV transmission from mothers to newborn babies to below 2 percent. The mother to child transmission rate of HIV was 10.3 percent in 2003. The country has brought it down to 1.9 percent by the end of last year, confirmed the Thai Health Ministry.

While there are few cases of mother-child transmission, overall, the country with one of the worst HIV epidemics has worked hard to virtually eliminate one of the foremost causes behind the unrelenting spread of the dreaded diseases. Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michel Sidibe called the achievement an important milestone in efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, reported DW. The figures have been corroborated by the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control, and UNICEF.

HIV can spread among adults by exchanging contaminated needles, having unprotected sex, and such other methods. However, HIV also spreads through the mother to her unborn child. HIV is passed from mother to child either in the womb or during labor, delivery or breastfeeding. Unfortunately, if left untreated, there’s a 15 to 45 percent chance of the baby inheriting the disease from its mother, reported CNN. Fortunately, if treatment is administered to the child, the chances diminish to less than 1 percent. However, the treatment, in the form of anti-retroviral medicine, has to be started and administered during the crucial stages.

How did Thailand manage to reduce the mother to child transmission? As with all treatments dealing with epidemics, the details lie in management and careful deployment of the health policies enacted. Thailand realized the mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis needed to be addressed during the pregnancy of the affected mother.

Hence, the country was among the first in the year 2000 to offer free anti-retroviral medication to all pregnant women diagnosed with HIV, reported ABC News. Moreover, Thailand stepped up its screening policy to detect any cases of HIV infection and handled the same delicately, but diligently.

Incidentally, besides Thailand, Belarus and Armenia were also declared free of mother-to-baby HIV transmissions. However, given the much lower rate of HIV infections in the respective countries, Thailand’s work in the field is specifically commendable. Thailand alone has little more than 450,000 people living with HIV today. Worsened by the sex trade that’s rampant in the country, Thailand went from fewer than 100,000 HIV cases in 1990 to more than 3 million in just three years. But the fact that the newborn children won’t suffer is noteworthy, said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

“To ensure children are born healthy is to give them the best possible start in life. It is immensely encouraging to see countries succeed in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of these two infections. This is a tremendous achievement — a clear signal that the world is on the way to an AIDS-free generation.”

Besides the elimination of transmission of HIV and syphilis, the country drastically brought down the number of women infected with HIV each year. According to official records, only 1,900 new cases of infection were detected in 2014. In 2000, the country was grappling with over 15,000 women getting infected with HIV annually. The country is proud of this 87 percent reduction.

Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is just the beginning, assured Thailand. The country has outlined a detailed health strategy that aims to extend universal health care to its citizens.

[Photo by Chun Sung-Jun/Getty Images]