Foreign Policy Blogs

Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission as an HIV Prophylaxis

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Recently released guidelines from The World Health Organization recommend starting HIV treatment earlier- even pre-emptively-as a measure to preventing and eradicating AIDS. At the 2013 International AIDS Conference in Malaysia, WHO officials declared that earlier anti-retroviral treatment of HIV will result in retardation of the virus’s mutation, and therefore, longer life-spans.

According to the World Health Organization and the Associated Press, the number of new HIV infections has dropped by 20 percent, worldwide, since the push to accelerate HIV treatment, globally, began in 2002. Medications prevented about 4 million deaths from HIV-related complications in developing countries, per year, according to WHO. The impact of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is proven so effective, that WHO recommends starting treatment even earlier as a preventive measure.

Essentially, in the absence of the anticipated HIV vaccine- clinical trials has been temporarily suspended-, the international governing health body is calling for a prophylactic treatment program, leveraging existing HIV treatment. Reading about the push to approach ARV treatment in this way makes me very sanguine. HIV/AIDS cannot be managed like a chronic disease. We cannot approach the treatment of this diagnosis, as we would heart disease or cancer, for 50-60 years and hope that measure will result in the reduction of AIDS. HIV/AIDS is a unique diagnosis, in that people live with it for long periods of time as they would a chronic disease, but it’s also an infectious disease and wide-spread epidemic. Therefore, the eradication process is one that will require taking a more dramatic approach.

As a global community, the AIDS fight has moved at a significant pace and the dent in AIDS treatment has been noteworthy. Complete eradication is within grasp and it is, therefore, critical to keep pressing forward. How can prevention most effectively be approached? Through the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), we can create a future generation of AIDS-free populations. Many organizations across Africa are working toward this method of AIDS prevention. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, mothers2mothers, EngenderHealth, and countless grassroots organizations across the developing world are recognizing the act of treating an HIV-positive, pregnant woman as an opportunity to also permanently eradicate this insidious disease, as well as treating the individual mother’s health.

WHO’s push to treat more people will inevitably cost more money, as well. According to experts, treating more people cost about $2.3 billion per year, which is up 10% than current expenditures. UNAIDS, WHO, and other global health multilaterals are committed to this fight. However, in the interest of health outcomes and health economics, this is only additional support for the method of PMTCT as a treatment, as well as a prophylactic measure to eradicating HIV/AIDS.

Until a vaccination is discovered, patented, and available on the global market, we must prevent future cases of AIDS, in addition to treating existing cases. This starts with creating an HIV-free generation and doing this starts with PMTCT.



Elyse Lichtenthal

Elyse Lichtenthal recently received a Masters Degree from the University of Chicago in Social Service Administration, with a concentration in Health Administration & Policy. Prior to her graduate academic tenure, Elyse spent time in South Africa, working with mothers2mothers, an NGO that prevents mother-to-child transmission of HIV throughout Southern and Eastern Africa. Combining experiences from the global public health, public policy and political organizing sectors, Elyse contributes to the Humanitarian Affairs section of the FPA Blogs with interests in service delivery models for chronic diseases and international policies surrounding access to treatment. Elyse is currently based in Chicago and is the Program Coordinator for the U.S. Cooperative for International Patients.