SEATTLE, Washington — In Western and Central Africa, HIV infections in infants and adolescents are prevalent, and treatment requires greater effort. Due to a lack of resources for the 540,000 children living with HIV, eight out 10 do not seek access to medical care because they are unaware that they are infected. Since so many children are not protected against HIV, 51,000 children die of AIDS in Western and Central Africa annually while more than twice that number are infected with HIV every year.
As of 2017, fewer than half of those living with HIV were aware of the infection. Of the 62 percent who were HIV aware, 83 percent accessed antiretroviral treatment and 73 percent were virally suppressed. The number of people accessing ART treatment has increased from 860,000 to 2.4 million between 2010 and 2017. More people were able to receive treatment because they were aware of their status.
Thirty percent of all AIDS-related deaths occur in Western and Central Africa with 280,000 deaths in 2017 alone. Within this region, four out of 10 children who die from AIDS, and only 10 percent of infants born to HIV positive mothers receive tests within the crucial two-month window.
Cabo Verde is Taking Steps to Reduce HIV Infections in Infants
While most countries in Western and Central Africa struggle to solve their HIV epidemic in children, Cabo Verde is aggressively reducing its numbers by taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease from mother to child. By providing extensive support to infected, pregnant mothers, put forth by UNAIDS and its partners, Cabo Verde is working to reduce HIV infections in infants by stopping the spread before they are born, so each child will have a better chance at a full life without HIV.
Cabo Verde has decentralized its HIV services in order to provide better accessibility. It offers HIV testing to pregnant women, and if the test comes back positive, the women are immediately given antiretroviral drugs and a package of services are provided during labor, delivery and breastfeeding. This combination reduces the risk of transmission to less than 5 percent. This treatment is free as part of the country’s universal health coverage policy.
Cabo Verde’s dedication to reducing HIV infections in infants has led to zero infected babies in 2014, 2015 or 2016. There was only one infection in 2017 because the mother did not adhere to proper medical treatment while pregnant.
Cabo Verde’s Community Response
Communities have formed the Core of Coordination to Fight AIDS in order to work and visit with individuals. This organization is trying to prevent the infection and support people living with HIV/AIDS. It wants to educate families and provide information to people in need. These communities aim to reduce the stigma of HIV and AIDS so that more people will be tested and learn how to stop the spread. They strive to empower people to make informed decisions and protect women and children against abuse.
Through the work of the government and community programs, Cabo Verde has led the way in reducing HIV infections in infants, but its has more work to do. It hopes to adhere to the Dakar Agreement of 2015, cooperating so that children are no longer born with HIV or die of AIDS-related causes by 2020.
– Michela Rahaim