Jamaica eliminates mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Jamaica is among three of the latest countries in the Americas to receive certification from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. 

The other two countries are Belize and St Vincent and the Grenadines, which are both CARICOM members.

Jamaica is now among 19 countries and territories in the world that have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The milestone was marked on Wednesday at a commemorative event organised by PAHO in Kingston, Jamaica, with support from UNICEF and UNAIDS. 

Health ministers from the three CARICOM states were also involved in the ceremony, according to Wednesday’s press release from PAHO.

At the event was PAHO Director, Dr Jarbas Barbosa.

“This achievement is a testament to years of dedication, hard work, and collaboration among governments, health professionals, and communities,” Barbosa said at the event.

He also acknowledged the “remarkable resilience” displayed by the three countries, ensuring the adaptation and continuation of essential services despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I trust that the celebration today will inspire other countries to reinvigorate their commitments” towards a generation free of HIV and congenital syphilis, Barbosa said. 

The release quoted Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, who declared that the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is “a win that underscores protecting the health of all”. 

Added Tufton: “It is also exemplary of the extraordinary progress being made in our maternal health care. 

“…  It is vitally important that we consolidate the gains made from this achievement, especially through continued community engagement and partnership in the public health interest of all,” Tufton stated.

According to PAHO, “WHO awards this certification to countries which have brought the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under 5 per cent; provided antenatal care and antiretroviral treatment to more than 90 per cent of pregnant women; reported fewer than 50 new cases of congenital syphilis per 100,000 newborns; and achieved an HIV case rate of fewer than 500 per 100,000 live births.”

In 2010, countries of the Americas committed to the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis and endorsed the regional strategy, which was updated in 2016 under the PAHO Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

To meet elimination targets, countries focused on strengthening prevention and treatment services within primary healthcare and in maternal and child health, updating guidelines, ensuring the effective screening of pregnant women, monitoring cases, and following up with HIV and syphilis exposed infants.

In a video message posted on X, formerly Twitter, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commended Jamaica for its civil society organisations’ commitment to human rights.

He went on to praise Belize for integrating primary disease prevention and treatment into maternal and child health services, while lauding St Vincent and the Grenadines for investing in robust national laboratory structures.

“While validation is a tremendous accomplishment, maintaining it requires sustained efforts to prevent new infections,” said Ghebreyesus.

“WHO and (its) partners will continue to support all countries in the Americas to strengthen health systems, provide comprehensive services, and ensure the involvement of women in planning and service delivery,” the WHO director-general was further quoted as saying in the release.

PAHO said, globally, “19 countries and territories have now been certified for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis, with 11 of them located in the Americas.”

In 2015, Cuba made history by becoming the first country in the world to achieve the dual elimination of HIV and syphilis. 

This was followed by Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and St Kitts and Nevis in 2017, and Dominica in 2020.

“The end of AIDS is an opportunity for a uniquely powerful legacy for today’s leaders. We are again celebrating a great public health milestone today (Wednesday) as Caribbean countries show global leadership in the elimination agenda to achieve an HIV free generation,” Christine Stegling, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, said.

New HIV infections among children in the Caribbean decreased by 25 per cent between 2010 and 2022. 

During that period, annual notified cases declined from 2,000 to 1,500. Reported cases of congenital syphilis in the English-speaking Caribbean now stand at 36 cases per 100,000 newborns, below the goal of no more than 50 cases per 100,000 newborns.

“UNICEF welcomes the commitment of Belize, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines for achieving the double elimination of vertical transmission for HIV and syphilis,” said Garry Conille, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

He continued: “We are confident that this milestone will be a catalyst for other countries in the region to pursue the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission Agenda toward the 2030 target: No child left behind in the progress to end AIDS.” 

PAHO said its “Elimination Initiative” seeks to put an end to “more than 30 communicable diseases, including the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030”.

The initiative was relaunched during the organisation’s 60th Directing Council and seeks to harness the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as from previous elimination experiences to accelerate disease elimination in the region.