On the heels of World Aids Day, the World Health Organisation announced Botswana as the first “high burden” country to be certified for achieving key milestones for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
High-burden countries are defined as those with more than two percent of pregnant women living with HIV.
The Baylor College of Medicine International Paediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) at Texas Children’s Hospital has played a significant role in this achievement through the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Centre of Excellence. A partnership of BIPAI, Bristol Meyers-Squibb Foundation and the Government of Botswana, the centre was the first on the African continent exclusively dedicated to free and accessible paediatric HIV/AIDS care and treatment.
“This is a huge accomplishment for a country that has one of the most severe HIV epidemics in the world. Botswana demonstrates that an AIDS-free generation is possible,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “This ground-breaking milestone is a big step forward in ending AIDS on the continent and shows how visionary political leadership aligned with public health priorities can save lives. I look forward to other African countries also reaching this goal.”
A country must meet a set of targets and specific levels of service delivery to reach the WHO certification. Botswana received the “silver tier” certification, which WHO awards to countries that have achieved three objectives: mother-to-child HIV transmission rate below five percent; antenatal care and antiretroviral treatment to more than 90 percent of pregnant women; and an HIV case rate of fewer than 500 per 100,000 live births.
“Botswana’s pathfinding accomplishment demonstrates the remarkable progress that can be achieved when the needs of mothers living with HIV and their children are prioritised,” said Ms Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS executive director.
During the early years of the epidemic, Botswana was being devastated by HIV/AIDS, with over 30 percent prevalence among Batswana adults. In 2000, former President of Botswana Festus Mogae addressed the United States General Assembly where he stated, “We are threatened with extinction… it is a crisis of the first magnitude.”
In a speech upon earning the WHO certification, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said, “I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to our success, starting with the individual, the family, the community, civil society organisations, the private sector and development partners.
“Together we will defeat the HIV pandemic and all other pandemics that will come our way. I therefore urge all of you to use the lessons learned in our fight against HIV/AIDS to defeat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We need to remain resilient and unwavering in our adherence to COVID-19 health protocols.”
Botswana is updating its guidance regarding syphilis and will expand its objectives regarding eliminating mother-to-child transmission moving forward in order to achieve complete elimination. – MedicalXpress