It is the first country in the Asia Pacific region to do so

WHO: Thailand is the first country in Asia and the Pacific region to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Thailand’s health minister received the certificate of validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) during a ceremony, which took place in New York on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.

According to WHO, Thailand is also the first country in the region with a large HIV epidemic to ensure an AIDS-free generation.

WHO South-East Asia Region’s regional director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh lauded Thailand’s unwavering commitment to core public health principles that made elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis a reality, a critical step for rolling back the HIV epidemic.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal also said that it’s a remarkable achievement for a country where thousands of people live with HIV. “Thailand has demonstrated to the world that HIV can be defeated,” she said, while presenting the certificate of validation in New York.

“Thailand has turned around its epidemic and transformed the lives of thousands of women and children affected by HIV,” UNAIDS executive director, Michel Sidibé said. “Thailand’s progress shows how much can be achieved when science and medicine are underpinned by sustained political commitment.”

“By investing in strong maternal and child health care and national AIDS prevention measures, Thailand has demonstrated there are ways to protect children from the global AIDS pandemic response,” said UNICEF East Asia-Pacific Region’s regional director Karin Hulshof. “Thailand’s achievement inspires its neighbours to greater action. There are still 21,000 infants who are born with HIV each year in the Asia-Pacific region, and more than 200,000 children who are growing up with HIV.”

According to WHO, if untreated, women living with HIV have a 15 to 45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. However, that risk drops to just over one percent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur.

According to Thailand’s public health ministry 98 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy and the rate of mother to child transmission of HIV has been reduced to less than two percent. In 2000, an estimated 1,000 children became infected with HIV. In 2015, the number of children who became infected with HIV through mother to child transmission was reduced to 85, a decline of more than 90 percent, a significant achievement in a country where an estimated 450,000 people were living with HIV in 2014.

At the same time, sustained efforts and success in preventing new HIV infections have helped reduce HIV among women of childbearing age. According to Thailand’s health authorities, between 2000 and 2014, the annual number of women newly infected with HIV fell from 15,000 to 1,900, a drop of 87 percent. Thailand’s Universal Health Coverage framework ensured essential health services were available to both rich and poor. The country’s commitment to equitable access has ensured that both Thai citizens and migrants are covered for HIV treatment.

In 2014, WHO and key partners published the guidance on global processes and criteria for the validation of the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis, which outlines the validation process and the different indicators countries need to meet.

According to WHO, treatment for prevention of mother to child transmission is not 100 percent effective, elimination of transmission is defined as a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem. “An international expert mission convened by WHO visited Thailand in April 2016 to validate the progress toward the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis,” a press release from WHO stated.

Staff reporter