WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — A new report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) shows that progress towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean has slowed.According to the report on the 'Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Syphilis in the Americas: Update 2016', a total of 2,100 children acquired HIV, most of them from maternal-to-child transmission in 2015, 55 per cent less than in 2010.
But on Wednesday, PAHO said this number has slowed down in recent years, noting that between 2010 and 2011 new cases fell by 800 children, they only fell by 100 between 2014 and 2015.
“Countries have made great efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” said Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO's Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis.
But he added: “Every time we get close to eliminating the transmission of a disease, progress is made more difficult, because it involves reaching all women, especially those who historically find barriers to accessing health services.”
According to the new report, in 2015, 72 per cent of pregnant women in Latin America and the Caribbean were tested for HIV, and 88 per cent of the women that were positive received treatment, an increase of 16 per cent and 71 per cent since 2010, respectively.
Access to treatment, along with other interventions, reduced the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV from 15 per cent to 8 per cent in five years in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report says. PAHO said the goal is to reach two per cent.
The report also indicates that new cases of congenital syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean have doubled since 2010, when countries and territories reported 10,850 cases, showing a steady increase since then.
By 2015, an estimated 22,400 children were born with syphilis.
The report says in 2015, 83 per cent of pregnant women in prenatal care were tested for syphilis and 84 per cent of those positive received treatment — rates that have remained stable for five years.
Currently, the number of children born with congenital syphilis in the region (170 per 100,000 live births) triples the goal of elimination (50 per 100,000).
“Expanding rapid diagnostic tests and initiating treatment at the same visit, as well as engaging sexual partners of pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis to know their status and treat them, is crucial to avoid reinfection during pregnancy and end this disease by 2030”, said Massimo Ghidinelli, head of the PAHO HIV, STI and Viral Hepatitis Unit.
To reduce as much as possible the number of children who get HIV from their mothers or are born with congenital syphilis, PAHO urged regional countries to have at least 95 per cent of pregnant women receiving prenatal care, 95 per cent or more being tested, and at least 95 per cent of those diagnosed receiving appropriate treatment.
PAHO said although the region of the Americas, including the Caribbean, has not yet eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis as a public health threat, “18 countries and territories reported data compatible with this double elimination in 2015.” Cuba was the first country in the world to be validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for reaching elimination. While other Caribbean countries and territories are “on track to achieve it.”