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Relief Group Says Simple, Effective Tactic in Global AIDS Fight Also One of Most Neglected

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 General News J E 4
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-- New report shows prevention efforts still not priority in most poor countries' health budgets

-- Only 1 in 3 HIV-positive pregnant women gets treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission

-- World Vision's "Not my HIV" campaign for World AIDS Day presses for faster progress

SEATTLE, Nov. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A proven and cost-effective strategy for turning the tide on global AIDS still remains significantly underutilized, World Vision warned in advance of World AIDS Day. Efforts to prevent mother-to-baby transmission of HIV must be urgently scaled up in high-prevalence countries to avoid needless infection of children, the Christian humanitarian organization said.

A new child and maternal health study by World Vision, to be released next week, shows that despite the proven low cost and effectiveness of preventive health efforts, many of the world's poorest countries with a high incidence of HIV still fail to emphasize them with adequate funding in national health budgets. This includes basic prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women, which is essential in order to be able to test mothers for HIV and begin antiretroviral therapy that can cut the risk of mother-to-child transmission to virtually zero. Even before these interventions, prevention often must start with community-level education to help women understand the importance of prenatal care and fight the stigma of HIV.

"We've seen in the United States that by testing women and providing ARV treatment during pregnancy and labor for HIV-positive mothers, it's possible to prevent babies from being born with the virus," said Robert Zachritz, World Vision's director for advocacy and government relations. "Yet globally, two out of every three HIV-positive pregnant women still cannot access treatment to protect her unborn child from a life with HIV."

In recent years, new HIV infections among children have fallen significantly due in part to greater investment in strategies to prevent mother-to-child transmission. But experts argue that with 2 million children under 15 currently infected with HIV, this prevention tactic is not being leveraged nearly enough.

"This particular challenge in the AIDS pandemic remains one of the most solvable," said Princess Zulu, a World Vision AIDS activist and herself an HIV-positive mother of two. "Globally, we have to put more emphasis on protecting children from inheriting this killer."

Zulu is promoting the charity's "Not my HIV" campaign for World AIDS Day, urging Americans to call on their lawmakers, learn more, and donate, so that mothers around the world can pass on positive traits to their children, but not the virus that causes AIDS.

World Vision will also be calling on Congress to fulfill its obligation under the Global AIDS, TB and Malaria bill passed last year to allocate $7.2 billion in 2010, funding that is essential for programs including HIV prevention and care.

"US government funding includes critical programs that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. We are talking about saving children's lives and preserving healthy communities using solutions that are proven to work," Zachritz added.

The public can learn more at worldvision.org or 1.888.56.CHILD. World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. Visit www.worldvision.org/press.

SOURCE World Vision
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