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UNAIDS Country Representative to China: China Makes Impressive Strides towards an AIDS-Free Generation

Like many young married women in China, Mei Zi (alias) wanted to have a child. But because she was HIV-positive, she denied herself this dream for many years. However, thanks to China’s successful program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, Mei Zi gave birth to a HIV-free baby two years ago. Now she is watching her son grow up with expectation and excitement like many other mothers.
"Mei Zi is one of many women living with HIV who have shared their stories with me. Her happiness brings home to me the amazing progress China has made towards eliminating mother to child HIV transmission as part of its successful HIV program," said Catherine Sozi, UNAIDS Country Representative to the People's Republic of China.
Every year, globally, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Untreated, they have a 15 to 45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding. However, the risk drops to just over 1 percent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur.
According to Catherine Sozi, "While China’s success in reducing new HIV infections in intravenous drug users has won global recognition, its efforts towards achieving an AIDS-free generation have received scant attention. The achievement is particularly noteworthy because of the country’s sheer geographical size, massive population and ethnic diversity. Chinese authorities report that infection rates amongst babies born to HIV-positive women have witnessed a decline of more than 80 percent in the past decade."
The country’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission program (PMTCT) began 15 years ago with a pilot program in a single county in Henan Province. While the program’s growth was initially slow, a renewed commitment saw the number of implementing counties almost doubling between 2014 and 2015 to 3,000 counties.
Now all hospitals and clinics providing maternal and child health services in the country implement PMTCT and HIV testing for pregnant women. In 2010, the government expanded the program to include the prevention of syphilis and hepatitis B, which can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and delivery.
"But even with so many steps forward, there is still work to be done. Chinese health authorities estimate that there were about 180 new HIV infections in babies in 2013."
Confronting and addressing issues of stigma and discrimination remains an ongoing challenge that is holding back some women from accessing the services they require.
"China’s leadership and communities are opening up to people who live with or are impacted by HIV. The First Lady of China is a champion of children living with HIV and top political leaders have spoken up in support of HIV-positive people. China’s commitment to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission and the AIDS response will be evident this week at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York. We are at a unique moment in history. The country’s remarkable scaling-up of successful programs like PMTCT and harm reduction are an example of UNAIDS Fast-Track approach. China is showing how by reaching ambitious HIV prevention and treatment targets over the next five years, we will be on course to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030."
"Ensuring the success of sustainable development goals, including ending the AIDS epidemic, will require global solidarity and partnership, especially in times of diverse and demanding global challenges. China has already achieved so much with its response to AIDS, and I am confident we can count on the country as a key partner," said Catherine Sozi. (Source: June 14, 2016)