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Namibia first African country to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B

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Namibia has become the first African country to reach a “significant milestone” towards eliminating vertical mother-to-child transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis B, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The country is also the first high-burden in the world to attain this milestone, the African Region Office of the WHO made in a news release published on its website Monday.

According to the global body, Eastern and Southern Africa account for more than half the world’s HIV burden and Africa accounts for two-thirds of new hepatitis B infections globally.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Temitope Ilori recently revealed that Nigeria has the highest burden of children born with HIV/AIDS in the world.

The 2021 viral hepatitis scorecard by the WHO showed that an estimated 998,000 Nigerian children under five years are chronic carriers of hepatitis B antigen. The scorecard also showed that not less than 11,679,000 other Nigerians are chronic carriers of viral hepatitis B.

Namibia’s progress 

According to the WHO’s publication, Namibia is home to more than 200,000 people living with HIV and new infections disproportionately impact females.

It however noted that of the 2.5 million children globally who have avoided vertical transmission of HIV since 2010, 28,000 of them are in Namibia.

WHO said across Namibia, HIV testing among pregnant women is almost universally available and access to treatment has led to a 70 per cent reduction in vertical transmission in the last 20 years.

In 2022, only 4 per cent of babies born to mothers living with HIV acquired the virus and almost 80 per cent of infants received a timely birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, one of the key metrics of success on the path to elimination.

WHO noted that Namibia has integrated primary health care with antenatal, child health and sexual and reproductive health services.

“The government committed stable domestic finance to national health programmes, offering widely accessible, quality and free of charge clinical services and support,” it said.

In December 2021, Botswana was the first high-burden country to be certified for achieving an important milestone on the path to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV by the WHO.

Achievement

Based on specified criteria, the WHO also awarded Namibia “silver tier” status for progress on reducing hepatitis B and “bronze tier” for progress on HIV.”

Among other factors, WHO certifies a country as having attained silver tier status when the hepatitis B vaccine is given to 50 per cent or more newborn babies, while the bronze certification is awarded to countries which have reduced the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 5 per cent.

The validation process, led by WHO in collaboration with UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA, evaluates data and standardises milestones for eliminating diseases.

“This is a landmark achievement by Namibia that demonstrates the life-saving possibilities of committed political leadership and effective implementation of public health priorities,” the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti was quoted to have said.

Ms Moeti said with concerted efforts, Africa can accelerate progress to reach the goals of ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis.

“In many countries, we are failing our children by not reaching them with the same treatment with which we reach their mothers and other adults,” the UNAIDS Regional Director, East and Southern Africa, Anne Githuku-Shongwe was quoted.

Ms Shongwe said “Namibia has fought against this injustice and we are proud to celebrate their immense effort to leave no child behind. They serve as a beacon for the entire region.”

Triple Elimination 

Namibia’s achievement according to WHO, follows a concerted strategy to curb the transmission of hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis in line with the WHO’s Triple Elimination Initiative.

The initiative aims to safeguard the health of mothers and children and affirm the rights of every child to be born free from the burden of these viruses.

It promotes an end to vertical transmission of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B virus, all of which are prevalent in low- and middle-income countries.

It encourages countries to integrate services, using a person-centred approach to improve health outcomes for mothers and children.

In recent years, WHO certified Cuba, Anguilla, Antigua, and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Thailand, Belarus, Armenia, and the Republic of Moldova in eliminating MTCT of HIV.

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