Officials with the World Health Organization Western Pacific Region (WHOWPRO) announced Monday that Malaysia became the first country in the region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Image/qimono via pixabay
Image/qimono via pixabay

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Dr Shin presented Malaysia’s Minister of Health, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, with a certificate of elimination during the session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, which opened today in Manila, Philippines.

Malaysia was among the early adopters globally of national prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and syphilis in maternal and child health services. The country started PMTCT services in 1998. Today, antenatal testing and treatment for HIV and syphilis are provided free of charge, and virtually all women have access to quality health services including contraception and births assisted by skilled attendants. As a result, the number of babies born with HIV or syphilis has reduced to the level compatible with global elimination criteria.

“Thanks to Malaysia’s efforts over the past several years, parents can now ensure their babies are born free of HIV and syphilis and have a healthy start to life,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Elimination could not have been achieved without Malaysia’s strong commitment to ensuring access to quality and affordable health services for all women, children and families.”

“Achieving elimination is not the end of our struggle to ensure every Malaysian child starts life healthy and free of HIV and syphilis. It’s the beginning of a never-ending journey to provide exceptional quality of care to prevent all infections that pass from mother to child,” said Dr Dzulkefly. “It is my sincere hope that this programme, which is a source of national pride and importance, shall be further enhanced in the years to come through strong political support and regular engagement with civil society.”

Some 13 000 women who become pregnant in the WHO Western Pacific Region each year are living with HIV, and one in four does not receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). Without these medicines, there is a 15–45% chance of transmitting the virus to the baby during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. When both mother and baby get the medicine, the risk of HIV transmission drops to just over 1%.

Additionally, each year an estimated 45 000 pregnant women in the Region are infected with syphilis, which can result in early fetal loss and stillbirth, low birthweight, serious neonatal infections and death. But simple, cost-effective screening and treatment with penicillin during pregnancy can eliminate most of these complications.