World AIDS Day: A Story of Hope
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When Tselane found out she was pregnant, she didn’t know where to go. Just two weeks before the baby was due, she ended up walking six miles along treacherous mountain tracks to the nearest health clinic in a remote part of Lesotho. It was here, while getting routine blood tests, that Tselane learned she was HIV-positive. In a way, she was lucky: having learned of her status while she was pregnant meant that she could still protect her unborn child. Thanks to a program supported by UNICEF, Tselane immediately began antiretroviral treatment. Two weeks later, her daughter was born HIV-free.
To protect mothers and babies in the path of HIV, UNICEF and its partners have set an ambitious goal: eliminate new infections among children by 2015. Achieving the world’s first AIDS-free generation may seem like a tall order, but Tselane’s story shows that it can be done. Women and children will be key partners in this effort. Nearly half of all pregnant women living with HIV in the developing world still do not get the medicines they need to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Most of them don’t even know they are infected. This has to change—and fast.
First and foremost, UNICEF is working with governments to make HIV testing a routine part of every pregnant woman’s first antenatal visit. Many pregnant women live miles from the nearest health center and can only make one visit during their pregnancy. The good news is that 80% of all pregnant women do make at least that one visit—which is why integrating an HIV test into their exams is so important.
And because many women may not be able to come back for a follow-up appointment, UNICEF is supporting the latest technologies that can deliver HIV test results on the spot. That way, if a pregnant woman is HIV positive, she can immediately start treatment to protect her unborn child. UNICEF also supports follow-up visits to make sure both mother and child are receiving the treatment that they need to stay healthy.
The simplest way to ensure that a baby is born free of HIV is to prevent the mother from getting infected in the first place. This means making HIV/AIDS education and prevention part of all young people’s lives—especially those who are marginalized or difficult to reach. It means teaching HIV prevention at schools and launching HIV-awareness and de-stigmatization campaigns. It also means changing laws so that minors can have access to HIV/AIDS testing and services, and creating specific programs geared toward young sex workers and drug users.
Every day, 1,000 children are newly infected with HIV. This is completely preventable. Saturday is World AIDS Day—a day of hope and resolve. With enough awareness, enough resources, and enough will, the world could see its first AIDS-free generation in just three years.