Last year PEPFAR and UNAIDS joined with other partners to launch the Global Plan, an initiative to eliminate new HIV infections among children and keep their mothers alive. Last week I was proud to take part in a two-day mission to Nigeria with Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director. (As I described in this post last week, our visit was interrupted by the tragic bombings.)
Each year, nearly 400,000 children are born with HIV globally, and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) is a particular challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, an area characterized by weak health systems. Incredibly, Nigeria alone bears about one-third of the global burden of new HIV infections among children. It is thus one of 22 priority countries of the Global Plan, which collectively account for nearly 90 percent of all new HIV infections among children annually. The Plan's central goal is to reduce the number of new pediatric infections in these countries by 90 percent.
We know what to do to prevent vertical transmission -- the science is long-established, and many countries (including Botswana) have achieved virtual elimination. PMTCT is a top priority for PEPFAR, and in 2011 alone, we supported programs that tested nearly 10 million pregnant women. Of these, more than 660,000 pregnant women were found to be living with HIV, and antiretrovirals (ARVs) for these women allowed more than 200,000 infants to be born HIV-free. These are the highest PMTCT results of any year in PEPFAR's eight-year history.
During our mission, we met with Nigeria's First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, who personally leads the country's PMTCT strategy. We also met with the Nigerian Minister of Health and Governors and Health Commissioners from PMTCT focus states, who play key roles in expanding PMTCT services in the country. We also had dialogue with Nigerian business, faith-based, and community leaders about the critical contributions they can make to achieving the elimination goal. Throughout these interactions, we focused on the main barriers to PMTCT progress at both the national level and in priority states, and began to identify the most effective strategies to address these challenges collectively. We also discussed Nigeria's plans to optimize and increase all available resources in the country, in order to achieve a generation born HIV-free.
As we have learned from the 30-year history and struggle of AIDS, extraordinary things happen when we work together. By uniting around our common humanity in a spirit of shared responsibility, we can give a chance at a full life to children and mothers around the world. Preventing new HIV infections in children is a smart investment that saves lives, and the United States is proud to partner with Nigeria and other countries in this cause.