Preventing mother to child transmission of HIV
of child HIV infections are transmitted via the mother – this is entirely preventable.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) was founded in 1988 by three women sitting around a kitchen table. One of these women, Elizabeth Glaser, had contracted the HIV virus from a blood transfusion during the birth of her daughter Ariel seven years earlier. Unaware of this, she had passed the virus to Ariel while breastfeeding, and then to her son, Jake, a few years later, while he was still in the womb.
“People say they care. But actions are what save lives.”
- Elizabeth Glaser
When Ariel passed away in 1988, Elizabeth decided that she needed to take action. Fearful that Jake would also succumb to the virus, Elizabeth’s grief spurred her on to find a cure for paediatric HIV. Thanks to the determination and resourcefulness of this remarkable woman, Jake is still alive today. In addition, EGPAF was set up, with Elizabeth fighting for its cause until her death in 1994. It is now the world’s leading not-for-profit organisation dedicated to eliminating paediatric HIV and AIDS. EGPAF supports more than 7,000 sites globally, including clinics and healthcare posts. It operates in 15 countries, of which 13 are in sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to EGPAF’s support, more than 17 million women have been tested for HIV, and more than 2.2 million individuals, including some 175,000 children, have been enrolled into HIV care and support programmes.1 In addition, in May 2014, EGPAF celebrated a significant milestone when it reached its 20 millionth woman with services to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, just 15 years after it began supporting work in Africa. This is indeed a huge victory; however, the battle is not yet over. Nearly 700 children continue to be infected with HIV every day and more than 500 HIVinfected children die daily.2 This is nothing short of a tragedy when we consider the progress that has been made over the past 25 years in terms of HIV treatment. Some 90 per cent of child HIV infections are transmitted via the mother – and this is entirely preventable. In addition paediatric healthcare that focuses on HIV treatment has not yet been fully researched. Treating HIVpositive children is not just a simple matter of reducing adult dosages of medicine. Pills are large and difficult to swallow, liquid medicine is bittertasting and the treatment and monitoring process is complicated. “Caregivers need support to manage it all,” said Charles Lyons, EGPAF President and CEO. “There is still a huge need to research HIV care specifically targeting children.”
Working towards long-term change
In order to create a long-term, sustainable impact on the HIV epidemic, EGPAF works not just with pregnant women, but with entire communities. It aims to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease. To this end, EGPAF targets community leaders, men, caregivers and women to help raise the profile of HIVpositive people and generate community support.
“It is still the case that most babies born to HIV-positive mothers have never been tested, and of those who are, many do not receive treatment.”
- Charles Lyons, EGPAF President and CEO
To date, EGPAF has made steady progress. Between 2009 and 2012 there was a rapid decline of new infections among children – by 50 per cent or more in Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia. More than 62 per cent of HIV-positive women around the world now have access to prevention of mother to child transmission services. “HIV treatment is a child’s right,” said Lyons. “It must be a global priority – until no child has HIV and no child dies of AIDS.”