• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

Namibia eliminates mother-child spread of HIV, HBV in Africa’s first

Almost all HIV-positive people in Nigeria are receiving treatment – Expert

Namibia hosts over 200,000 people living with HIV and new infections disproportionately impact females, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The East African country achieved the milestone by integrating primary health care with antenatal, child health, and sexual and reproductive health services.

It also committed stable domestic finance to national health programmes, offering widely accessible, quality, free clinical services and support.

Namibia’s first National Elimination Strategy was initiated in 2014, followed by the National Roadmap to Elimination of HIV and syphilis in 2020, with viral hepatitis B added later.

It established a multisectoral National Validation Committee to eliminate the three diseases in line with WHO guidance.

Based on specified criteria, WHO awarded Namibia “silver tier” status for progress on reducing hepatitis B and “bronze tier” for progress on HIV.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said Namibia’s achievement demonstrates the life-saving possibilities of committed political leadership and effective implementation of public health priorities.

With concerted efforts, she said: “We can accelerate progress to reach the goals of ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis – the triple elimination.”

WHO’s Triple Elimination Initiative aims to safeguard the health of mothers and children and affirm the rights of every child to be born free from the burden of these viruses.

Eastern and Southern Africa is home to more than half the world’s HIV burden and Africa accounts for two-thirds of new hepatitis B infections globally.

Globally, 2.5 million children have avoided vertical transmission of HIV since 2010, 28,000 of whom are in Namibia.

HIV testing among pregnant women is almost universally available across the country and access to treatment has led to a 70 per cent reduction in vertical transmission in the last 20 years.

In 2022, only 4 per cent of babies born to mothers living with HIV acquired the virus. Almost 80 per cent of infants received a timely birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, one of the key metrics of success on the path to elimination.

The validation process, led by WHO in collaboration with UNICEF, UNAIDS, and UNFPA, evaluates data and standardises milestones for eliminating diseases.

Among other factors, WHO certifies a country as having attained silver tier status when the hepatitis B vaccine is given to 50 per cent or more newborn babies.

A bronze certification is awarded to countries that have reduced the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 5 per cent.

“In many countries, we are failing our children by not reaching them with the same treatment with which we reach their mothers and other adults,” Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UNAIDS Regional Director, East and Southern Africa said.

“Namibia has fought against this injustice and we are proud to celebrate their immense effort to leave no child behind. They serve as a beacon for the entire region.”