Malaysia has become the first country in the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
“Thanks to Malaysia’s efforts over the past several years, parents can now ensure their babies are born free of HIV and syphilis and have a healthy start to life,” said Dr.Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
“Elimination could not have been achieved without Malaysia’s strong commitment to ensuring access to quality and affordable health services for all women, children and families.”
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Dr. Shin presented Malaysia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, with a certificate of elimination during the session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, in the Philippines.
Malaysia began antenatal HIV screenings in 1998, and was one of the earliest countries to start national HIV and syphilis campaigns focusing on maternal and child health services. Today, antenatal testing and treatment for HIV and syphilis are free of charge, and almost all women have access to quality health services, including contraception.Correspondingly, these actions have greatly reduced the number of babies born with HIV or syphilis to the level compatible with global elimination criteria. The services are sustained through full financial integration into the annual budget of the Family Health Programme.
“Achieving elimination is not the end of our struggle to ensure every Malaysian child starts life healthy and free of HIV and syphilis. It’s the beginning of a never-ending journey to provide exceptional quality of care to prevent all infections that pass from mother to child,” said Dr. Dzulkefly.
“It is my sincere hope that this programme, which is a source of national pride and importance, shall be further enhanced in the years to come through strong political support and regular engagement with civil society.”
Approximately 13,000 women who get pregnant in the WHO Western Pacific Region each year are living with HIV, and one in four does not receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). Without the proper medication, there is a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to the baby during pregnancy, labour, delivery, or breastfeeding. When both mother and baby are medicated, the risk of HIV transmission drops to just over 1%.
“This elimination is a remarkable achievement that puts Malaysia at the forefront of the global effort to ensure that no child is born with HIV or congenital syphilis. A combination of political commitment, stronger systems for health, and timely prevention, diagnosis and treatment is the key to success,” said Mr. Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
He goes on to urge other countries to emulate Malaysia and ensure that every child is born HIV-free.
Subsequently, each year an estimated 45,000 pregnant women per year in the region infected with syphilis, which can result in early fetal loss and stillbirth, low birthweight, serious neonatal infections, and death. However, simple screenings and treatment with penicillin during pregnancy can eliminate most of these complications.
“UNICEF’s vision is a world where no child dies from a preventable cause and all children reach their full potential in health and well-being,” said Ms. Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and the Pacific.
“Early testing, early diagnosis and early treatment are key steps for attaining and sustaining elimination of mother-to-child transmission. Malaysia should be congratulated for being one of the first countries to introduce national initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in maternal and child health services.”
Malaysia’s assessment was conducted by independent experts on the elimination of mother-to-child transmission, led by a Regional Validation Team convened by the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, jointly with WHO Malaysia, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, and UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. The findings were reviewed and confirmed by the Global Validation Advisory Committee.