JUL 01, 2015 01:04 PM PDT

Cuba Is First To Eliminate Mother-Child Transmission of HIV

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
On Tuesday June 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) validated Cuba as the first country to eliminate HIV transmission from mother to child during childbirth and while breastfeeding (perinatal transmission).

HIV is a unique virus that attacks the body’s own immune system, preventing the body from healing itself. When an HIV infection destroys enough of the immune system to elicit a visible response in a patient, the condition is called AIDS. Patients with HIV infections die of AIDS when their bodies cannot fight off simple bacterial and viral infections because of their deficient immune systems. In general, HIV is most commonly transferred during sexual contact or sharing needles, but children with HIV are most likely to receive the virus from their mothers after birth (CDC).



WHO defines Cuba’s successful elimination of perinatal HIV transmission as “a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem.” For instance, the risk of a child receiving an HIV infection via perinatal transmission is 15-45%, but Cuba’s prevention efforts have lowered those statistics to 1%.

While inevitably reaching an amazing milestone in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Cuba did not achieve success by discovering a magic bullet for HIV prevention. When HIV-positive mothers are given antiretroviral treatment before and after giving birth, viral levels in the blood decrease immensely, and the risk of sharing the infection with their children through blood or breastmilk diminishes to almost zero (WHO). Thus, Cuban health authorities made screening every pregnant mother for AIDS the top priority, as well as treating every mother found to be harboring an HIV infection. It was this large-scale, all-inclusive action that allowed perinatal HIV transmission to be eliminated in Cuba.

Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, praises the triumph in Cuba as “an important step toward having an AIDS-free generation.”

In the United States, 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year (CDC). Thanks to universal healthcare and prioritizing the elimination of HIV transmission from mother to child, Cuban health authorities have set an example for what measures are necessary to keep HIV from spreading to future generations.



Source: ABC, Reuters
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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