Treatment programme drastically slashes rates of HIV transmission from mother to baby in China’s worst-hit area

Project in Yunnan province to prevent infants becoming infected in the womb results in dramatic fall in just over a decade

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 5:17pm

The rate of HIV infections passed from mother to child has fallen in part of southwestern China from almost a quarter to less than 3 per cent in the space of just over a decade, according to mainland media reports.

The sharp reduction follows the decision to offer HIV positive mothers treatment to stop their child becoming infected in Yunnan, the province with the country’s highest levels of infection.

Rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission dropped from 22.5 per cent in 2005 to 2.72 per cent in 2016 in Dali county.

In the absence of any intervention, transmission rates range from 15 per cent to 40 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation. The virus can be transmitted during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding.

The province started to offer treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission 12 years ago, according to China News Service.

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Under the scheme, expectant mothers receive free HIV tests and can choose to terminate the pregnancy or keep the baby if they test positive.

Women who choose the latter course will be given free drugs to prevent transmission of the virus.

Newborns with HIV positive mothers also receive free milk powder, medical treatment and regular tests.

“The wish for a healthy child becomes stronger after women are diagnosed with Aids,” Shen Hongbo, director for the prevention of Aids, syphilis and hepatitis B at Dali Women and Children’s Hospital, said in the report.

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Xiao Fang, an HIV carrier who gave birth to a baby in 2008, said she was glad that she was able to join the programme.

“I feel very lucky to have a healthy baby,” Xiao said. “Most importantly, my husband married me knowing I am HIV positive.”

The young mother was diagnosedin 2006 after her ex-boyfriend became infected due to drug use. “I was thinking about suicide every day with every possible method,” she said.

“But I survived with help from volunteers.”

She is now a volunteer herself at an Aids support group in Dali county.

Yunnan, a southwestern province with the highest HIV infection rate in China, sits close to the Golden Triangle, Asia’s biggest opium-producing area.

In 2016, there were over 93,000 HIV or Aids patients in the province, accounting for 15 per cent of the country’s total, statistics from the Chinese Centre For Disease Control And Prevention show.