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The UK government should financially support the health services of developing countries to provide the drugs and care that pregnant, HIV positive women need to stop them passing the infection to their babies, a new Unicef report urges.
More than 90% of pregnant, infected women in poor countries miss out on services that could prevent their babies being born with the disease, the report says.
Every minute a baby is born with HIV, most of whom are destined to die before their second birthday, yet the risk of mothers passing HIV to their babies can be reduced simply and cheaply, claims the children's organisation.
The new report marks the launch of Unicef UK's campaign to raise £1.5m (€2.2m; $3m) over the next 18 months to ensure that more babies in poor countries are born free of HIV.
It is specifically urging the UK government to provide long term funding to expand the health systems of developing countries.
Pregnant women need to be offered HIV testing, post-test counselling, and specific doses of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy and birth to prevent their babies being born with HIV, says Unicef.
Developing countries currently have a shortage of about four million health workers, including doctors, nurses, and support staff.
Unicef UK is lobbying the UK government and leaders of the other G8 most developed countries—which in 2005 pledged more aid to developing countries—to fund an expansion in the staffing of health services in those countries.
Unicef UK's deputy executive director, Anita Tiessen, said, “This money would help provide around four million more health workers so that the world's most vulnerable people, including mothers and babies affected by HIV, can receive the essential health services they need. Without more health workers, babies will continue to be born with HIV. The G8 leaders must stick to their promises and make sure more aid is delivered.”
Unicef estimates that an additional 3.4 million children under the age of 15 will be living with HIV by 2010 unless HIV prevention programmes worldwide are rapidly expanded. The toll is heaviest in Africa, but epidemics are growing across the world, particularly in Asia and eastern Europe.
The report says that effective steps are being taken now to prevent babies being born with HIV and that these steps are being implemented in some of the worst hit countries. However, successful approaches need to be expanded rapidly into nationwide programmes to ensure that children are born free of HIV and stay free from it, it says.
Anita Tiessen added: “We are calling specifically on the UK government to give long term and lasting funds that will strengthen the health systems of developing countries. The UK government needs to show strong leadership in the international efforts to reach this goal, because developing countries urgently need the resources to recruit, train, and retrain more health workers.”
Born Free from HIV is accessible at www.unicef.org.uk/bornfree.