CAPE TOWN - In what has been hailed as a groundbreaking milestone and a major step forward in ending Aids on the continent, Botswana became the first high-burden country to be certified for its efforts in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV by the World Health Organization (WHO).
It joins only 15 countries that have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission. However none of them had an epidemic as large as Botswana’s.
Botswana achieved the “silver tier” status, which moves it closer to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.
WHO awards this certification to countries which have brought the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under 5%, provided antenatal care and antiretroviral treatment to more than 90% of pregnant women; and achieved an HIV case rate of fewer than 500 per 10 000 live births.
High-burden HIV countries are defined as those with more than 2% of pregnant women living with the virus.
“This is a huge accomplishment for a country that has one of the most severe HIV epidemics in the world. Botswana demonstrates that an Aids-free generation is possible,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
“This groundbreaking milestone is a big step forward in ending Aids on the continent and shows how visionary political leadership aligned with public health priorities can save lives. I look forward to other African countries also reaching this goal,” she said.
UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima said Botswana’s pathfinding accomplishment demonstrates the remarkable progress that can be achieved when the needs of mothers living with HIV and their children were prioritised.
“Children are among the groups left furthest behind in the HIV response. Addressing this inequality and preventing new HIV infections in children is critical if we are to end Aids. Political commitment, strong leadership and the hard work of dedicated health care workers and communities in Botswana have delivered impressive results.”
The country’s progress could serve as an example for others, said Mohamed Fall, Unicef regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“We applaud Botswana for this remarkable achievement, which serves as inspiration to other countries in eastern and southern Africa. The progress on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV in this region is truly a public health success, with more than 1.7 million new infections in children averted since 2010. We look forward to congratulating other countries very soon and continuing the journey to full and sustained elimination over time.”