Belize Certified for Eliminating Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Syphilis

Belize Certified for Eliminating Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Syphilis

Belize is among several countries that is being officially certified for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has a criteria for the certification which includes bringing the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to under five percent; providing antenatal care and antiretroviral treatment to more than 90 percent of pregnant women; reporting fewer than 50 new cases of congenital syphilis per one hundred thousand newborns and achieving an HIV case rate of fewer than five hundred per one hundred thousand live births. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) held the official certification ceremony in Kingston, Jamaica this morning. Dr. Monica Alonzo, Chief of PAHO’s HIV AIDS Unit, said that major contributors that led to the certification included the use of medical evidence, political commitment, and the actions of all parties involved including communities and civil society organizations.

Dr.Monica Alons, Chief, HIV/AIDS Unit, PAHO: “If we remember 1994 was pivotal with the study PACTG076 that demonstrated that using anti retrovirals, we could reduce by two thirds the mother to child transmission of HIV. From then to now much more evidence has been generated. We have more powerful drugs, more tools. And all this enables us to fight this infection. All these tools and drugs are being implemented by these three countries. For Syphilis on the other hand, a centuries old disease, the introduction of Penicillin in 1943 was pivotal for treatment. And the more new point of care tests are being instrumental to scaling up access to screening. But data is showing us that Syphilis is on the rise in many countries and increased surveillance and evidence-based and context-specific responses are needed to ensure that gains are sustained. With regards to political commitment, the Caribbean has a history of leadership and success in public health mobilization. The region has been a pioneer in the elimination of diseases, Measles, Polio, and it was the first region to embrace the target of elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and congenital Syphilis as public health problems. And finally, the third element, the gigantic team effort of persons in the three countries from policymakers to each and every nurse, doctor, lab technician, contact tracer, counselor, epidemiologist, civil society group, and community member. They made it happen with clear guidelines, the right processes, appropriate training, models of care based on primary healthcare and the availability of commodities, not to mention their determination and their resilience. It is well understood that we need to maintain what has been done. And now we actually try to go even further with the elimination initiative that aims to integrate the elimination of more than 30 diseases and related conditions. The achievement today of these countries is considered a milestone in eliminating communicable diseases as public health problems. This is a prideful moment. I congratulate you and the team at PAHO is honored and humbled to be part of your path.”

Accepting the certification was Minister of Health and Wellness Kevin Bernard. During his address, Bernard said that the certification demonstrated the commitment and collaboration of stakeholders in the healthcare system.

Hon. Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness: “Today Belize joined the ranks of countries, together with Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the eight other countries in the Americas and the 17 countries now in the regions that in receiving the official certification for the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and Syphilis, a milestone for our country and a beacon of hope for our future generations. This accomplishment is not the work of a single individual but the result of years of unwavering commitment and relentless effort from our health care workers. From the nurses in rural clinics, to the specialists in our hospitals, from community health workers, to laboratory technicians, it is their dedication that has brought us to this momentous day. Since the inception of the MTCT program in 2004 in Belize, we have faced numerous challenges. But with each challenge we found new strength and innovative solutions. Our collaborations with the Pan American Health Organization has been instrumental in this journey. PAHO’s support has helped us to break down barriers to care and has provided invaluable guidance for which we are deeply grateful. So Dr. Barbosa, to you and your team at PAHO, I once again extend on behalf of our people, our country and our government our deepest appreciation to the organization. The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis is more than a medical victory. It is a promise to our children for a healthier start in life. It is a testament to our belief in healthcare as a right for all and our commitment to the public health as a cornerstone for a more vibrant and productive Belize.”

PAHO says that 19 countries and territories have now been certified for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis, globally. Eleven of those certifications are from countries in the Americas. In 2015, Cuba made history by becoming the first country in the world to achieve the dual elimination of HIV and syphilis. In 2020, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Montserrat, and St. Kitts and Nevis in 2017, and Dominica also achieved dual elimination.

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