Cuba has recently become the first country in the world where, according to information from the World Health Organization, the possibility of HIV transmission from mother to child has been excluded completely.
Contrary to Cuba’s story of success, it has to be concluded that Latvia has a long way to go before it is possible to reach the same level. HIV infection via heterosexual means has been on a rise in Latvia since 2008. In 2014 there were 14 HIV-infected pregnant women in Latvia; seven in the first half of 2014, according to information from Disease Prevention and Control Center. Three children died as a result of vertical HIV transmission (from mother to son) over the course of 2008 – 2015. One of them died from AIDS complications.
Cuba’s story of success is based on a complex approach to solving this problem: early pre-birth care, HIV tests for pregnant women and their partners, timely start of HIV treatment for women and their children, caesarean operation during birth and replacement of breastfeeding with artificial nutrients to exclude the risk of infection. Anti-virus therapy is especially important – without proper treatment, the possibility of a mother passing on HIV to her child is 15-45%. This risk reduces to slightly above 1% if the mother and children receive timely anti-virus treatment.
There are multiple reasons why Latvia remains and anti-leader in regards to the number of HIV-infected children: pregnant women are not provided with state funded HIV tests. The proportion of HIV-infected women that receive insufficient HIV treatment or live without it is unacceptably high. On top of that, HIV treatment outside of Riga is less accessible.
ECDC experts have also mentioned the unacceptably high number of HIV-infected children in Latvia.
The situation is made worse by the fact that only half of HIV-infected pregnant women in Latvia start anti-virus treatment early on (from 14 pregnancy week) which is the main prevention measure when it comes to vertical transmission.
The number of children born with HIV worldwide has declined nearly by half since 2009 – from 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 in 2013. A lot of work has to be done to achieve the global goal: fewer than 40,000 HIV-infected children by 2015.
In order for Latvia to succeed in limiting the number of children who end up infected with HIV as a result of vertical transmission there have to better planned and better coordinated HIV treatment secured for pregnant women. This includes HIV tests, pre and post-birth care and early anti-virus therapy. The situation may improve somewhat next year, because the budget plan for 2016 includes the allocation of funds for better treatment of HIV patients, specialists say.