New York, Dec 4: Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV, according to a report released by four United Nations agencies.
The report titled "Children and AIDS": Third stocktaking report, was jointly prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and released on World Aids Day.
"Without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday," said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director.
"Survival rates are up to 75 per cent higher for HIV-positive newborns who are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks."
However, in 2007, less than 10 per cent of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were tested for HIV before they were two months old. The report advocates for increased testing to enable appropriate treatments to begin as early as possible.
Far too few pregnant women know their HIV status. In 2007, only 18 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were given an HIV test, and of those who tested positive, only 12 per cent were further screened to determine the stage of HIV disease and the type of treatment they require.
"The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is not only effective, but also a human right," said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot.
"We are seeing good progress in many countries, especially in parts of Africa, but we need to significantly scale up HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women."
The report also recommends increased access to tests assessing immune functions of HIV-positive mothers to determine their stage of HIV disease and provide a basis for decisions about appropriate treatment that addresses their own health needs and reduces the chance of the virus being passed to their offspring.