Cuba has become the first country in the world to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child. The World Health Organization announced Cuba’s designation on Tuesday, calling it “one of the greatest public health achievements possible.”
“This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s general director, said in a statement.
There is no cure for AIDS, and health officials have worked to eradicate HIV infection, making Cuba’s breakthrough particularly significant, analysts said.
Every year, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. If untreated, they have a 14 to 45 percent of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding, the WHO said.
The WHO said it started working with several countries in the Americas in 2010 to improve their access to antiretroviral medicines as part of a regional effort to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
Cuba responded by also offering women early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for pregnant women and their partners, and treatment for women and their babies if they tested positive. Cuba’s efforts paid off, and in 2013, only two babies were born with HIV on the Caribbean island, and five were born with congenital syphilis, the WHO said.
Cuba’s communist government made healthcare a top priority after the 1959 revolution that brought former leader Fidel Castro to power, and it provides free care to ordinary Cubans.
"This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. "It shows ending the AIDS epidemic is possible."