The Ministry of Public Health has officially declared Thailand to be the first country in Asia to be free of the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and syphilis from mothers to their infants.
Among one of the rare countries in the world to be certified as free of HIV transmission, Thailand reports the rate of HIV transmission from pregnant mothers to their newborn children to have fallen below 2%, declining from 10.3% in 2003 to 1.91% last year.
As per World Health Organisation (WHO) global guidelines, the mother-to-child HIV transmission can be effectively eliminated when the rate of transmission falls below 2%.
Public Health Minister Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said: "It is not only Thai mothers and children who benefit from this, but all who are residing in the Kingdom. Everyone is entitled to receive equal and effective services.
"However, a challenge remains: how we make this success sustainable.
"We’ll be able to reach that dream through effective leadership and management, as well as strong cross-sectoral collaboration and policy advocacy by the Government."
The validation assessment was conducted by a team of regional independent experts convened by WHO and supported United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).
The Asian country has been successful in meeting all elimination of mother-to-child transmission criteria for HIV, as well as congenital syphilis in accordance with the global targets.
UNAIDS Thailand country director Tatiana Shoumilina said two decades ago, about one in three children across the globe whose mothers were affected with HIV was born with HIV.
Shoumilina said: "Thailand is the first country in Asia to achieve what was deemed an impossible milestone at that time, of freeing infants of HIV, as well as syphilis."
The healthcare services for mothers living with HIV in Thailand are fully integrated into maternal and child health programmes at hospitals and are covered by the country’s universal healthcare coverage.
As stated by the Ministry of Public Health, HIV testing of pregnant women has been above 95% since 2013, which is the highest in the Asia Pacific region, while 95% of the pregnant women with positive results receive antiretroviral drugs for their treatment.
Image: A child sleeping. Photo: courtesy of Unicef.