U.S.-backed progress against AIDS among newborns in South Africa

By ACSH Staff — Jun 01, 2012
Less than a decade ago, almost a third of South African babies were born infected with HIV.

Less than a decade ago, almost a third of South African babies were born infected with HIV. Now that rate has dropped below four percent, thanks in part to a USAID-subsidized South African government health program designed to prevent the transmission of HIV from new mothers to their newborns.

South Africa's Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission program was finally launched in 2002, providing the treatments at no cost to pregnant women who are HIV-positive. The program tests pregnant women at prenatal clinics, then provides counseling and treatment during pregnancy and afterward. The anti-retroviral drugs reduce the viral load in a mother's body, thus lowering her child's risk of contracting HIV through the umbilical cord, from bodily fluids during delivery, or from breastfeeding.

Thus far, the treatment has saved as many 70,000 newborns every year, say officials. This is no small feat in a country with nearly six million people living with HIV and AIDS. Kudos is due to both South Africa's Constitutional Court, which mandated this program, and the U.S. aid agency USAID, which has provided more than $3.3 billion for South African HIV/AIDS programs since 2004.

"The more available that anti-retroviral treatments become in Africa, the better the situation gets," says ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom, who has followed AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic and has conducted research in the area. The magnitude of the effect that the anti-retroviral drugs have had on the global epidemic reads almost like science fiction, he adds. We ve gone from an out-of-control plague to a situation where we are seeing incredible reductions in transmission and death in a very short time. This is clearly one of the great success stories in the history of medicine. The only obstacle standing in the way of a sea change on the continent are the poverty and infrastructure deficiencies in the region.