On Tuesday Cuba became the first country to be validated by the World Health Organization as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. The announcement was made during a press conference at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Headquarters in Washington D.C this morning.
Cuba’s Public Health Minister, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, attributed the Caribbean island’s success to a healthcare system that reaches all people and that does not discriminate. He also pointed to the value of community and multi-sectorial participation.
“A country with scant resources has been able to provide healthcare for all,” Morales Ojeda noted. “Affordability, universal access and universal health coverage are among the main elements required to achieve this result.”
Dr. María Isela Lantero, Chief of Cuba’s STI, HIV and AIDS National Program, emphasised the value of making all health services available in clinics.
“We have this result because of the integration of our programmes and coalescing around a common goal. We did not approach this from a vertical approach but rather from the point of view of providing universal primary healthcare,” Isela Lantero explained during the panel discussion that followed the announcement.
Other Caribbean successes are on the way
Dr. César Núñez, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Latin America hoped that the achievement would be a catalyst for other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“This is the only region where this commitment to eliminate HIV transmission to children was signed at the levels of heads of state. I would like to see Cuba’s success have a snowballing effect and make it possible for all the countries of the Americas to achieve this goal,” Núñez said.
As part of the Regional Initiative for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean, countries have worked to ensure early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both pregnant women and their partners, treatment for women who test positive and their babies, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding. These services are provided as part of an equitable, accessible and universal health system in which maternal and child health programs are integrated with programs for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
The Caribbean currently has one of the world’s highest rates of treatment coverage to prevent HIV transmission to babies (95%). At least six other Caribbean countries are on track to be certified as having eliminated HIV transmission from mothers to children this year. National validation processes are underway throughout the region to confirm reported rates.
Cuba is the first country in the world to request that WHO validate its elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. The process included, among other steps, the preparation of a national report and a country visit by the regional committee of independent experts which presented its report to a WHO global committee. The global committee met last week to analyze that report.
“Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV,” said PAHO Director, Dr Carissa F. Etienne. “Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis”.