Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, stated, “This is a major victory in our long fight against HIB and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.” Without medical intervention, HIV positive mothers have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their child during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding, but when antiretroviral medication is administered, the risk of transmission to the baby drops to just over 1%.

Worldwide, roughly 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant each year, and the number of children, worldwide, born with HIV is 240,000.  The WHO and the Pan American Health Organization has been working with Cuba and other countries for several years with the goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Cuba has integrated prenatal care, HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women, monitored cesarean deliveries, and breastfeeding substitutions to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. While preventative treatment for this transmission is not 100% effective, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba in 2013, a significant accomplishment!

Here are Northwestern, the Perinatal HIV Program is targeting similar goals to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. Indeed, the Women’s HIV Program at Northwestern is the largest provider of obstetrics care for HIV-positive mothers in Illinois! This program provides integrated care that includes maternal-fetal medicine, infectious disease, health psychology, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.



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