African countries reduce new HIV infections among children by 50 percent

A new report in the effort to eliminate new worldwide HIV infections among children found major progress in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF said on Tuesday.

The report on the Global Plan towards elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive found that Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Ghana, Ethiopia and Botswana reduced new HIV infections among children by 50 percent since 2009. Zimbabwe and the United Republic of Tanzania also made significant progress.

Overall, there were 130,000 fewer new HIV infections among children in the 21 Global Plan priority countries in Africa, a decrease of 38 percent since 2009.

"The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that with focused efforts every child can be born free from HIV," Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS, said. "But progress has stalled in some countries with high numbers of new HIV infections. We need to find out why and remove the bottlenecks which are preventing scale-up."

New infections among children in Nigeria remained largely unchanged since 2009 and new HIV infections even increased in Angola.

The report outlined that breastfeeding is crucial to ensuring child survival and emphasized the need to provide antiretroviral therapy during the breastfeeding period. The report found that only half of all breastfeeding women with HIV or their children receive antiretroviral medicines to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

"We have the tools required to reach the Global Plan's goals, and recent data show that we are moving ever closer to their realization," Ambassador Eric Goosby, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, said. "This month, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced, the one millionth baby will be born HIV-free due to (the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief's) support. Now, we must all continue working together to see the day when no children are born with HIV, which is within our reach."