GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Cuba has become the first country in the world to eradicate the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michel Sidibé said, “This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere”.
Cuba benefited from a project run by the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization started in 2010 to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
The WHO said in a report that an international delegation and the Pan American Health Organization sent to Cuba in March to determine is the country met the criteria for the designation. In 2013, only two children in Cuba were born with HIV and five with syphilis, the report said.
It is estimated that each year 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Untreated they have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. The risk drops to just over 1% if the mother and baby are treated with antiretroviral.
Margaret Chan, Director General WHO said “Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible”.
She also added “This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.”
The milestone is a key step toward eliminating the virus even without a cure, an idea that was once considered a pipe dream but that in recent years has been considered a realistic goal by world leaders.
Cuba’s Communist government considers its free healthcare a major achievement of the 1959 revolution.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan once emphatically complimented Cuba’s universal healthcare system, saying, “Cuba should be the envy of many other nations.”
It is pertinent to mention here that thousands of medical tourists travel to Cuba each year (paywall) for surgeries and other medical care. Cuba also has one of the lowest HIV rates in the world.
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