The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday announced that Botswana had become the first high-burden country to be certified for achieving an important milestone on the path to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
According to the WHO, Botswana has achieved “silver tier” status, which means the southern African nation has brought the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to below five percent, provided antenatal care and antiretroviral treatment to more than 90 percent of pregnant women, and achieved an HIV case rate of fewer than 500 per 100,000 live births.
At the turn of the century, Botswana was in a dire situation with an HIV prevalence of nearly 30 percent and consequently launched an intensive to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Botswana would go on to achieve national antiretroviral (ARV) medicine coverage before going on to implement increasingly effective plans while following WHO guidance.
Though 15 countries have been certified for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, none of them had an HIV epidemic as large as Botswana.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said Botswana had achieved a “huge accomplishment” and shown other nations with similar burdens that an AIDS-free generation was possible.
“This groundbreaking 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.”
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said prioritizing the needs of mothers living with HIV and their children can yield great results as shown by Botswana.
“Children are among the groups left furthest behind in the HIV response. Addressing this inequality and preventing new HIV infections in children is critical if we are to end AIDS. Political commitment, strong leadership and the hard work of dedicated health care workers and communities in Botswana have delivered impressive results.”
The announcement by the WHO will encourage several nations plagued by the epidemic nearly 18 months after the UN AIDS agency warned that the global fight against AIDS had been losing momentum even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which was threatening to set back hard-won progress against HIV by at least a decade.