21 May 2009The head of the United Nations agency charged with coordinating the fight against HIV/AIDS has called for a virtual elimination of mother-to-child AIDS transmission worldwide by 2015. “We can prevent mothers from dying and babies from becoming infected with HIV,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), told this week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. According to UNAIDS, evidence shows that timely administration of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission to their babies. “It is a proven, inexpensive, and effective intervention,” UNAIDS said in a news release. “Despite this, latest estimates show that in 2007, only 33 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women received the necessary treatment and only 21 per cent of women in low- and middle-income countries were tested for HIV as part of their antenatal care. “Progress in this area can only be achieved by integrating programmes which prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children into the broader reproductive health agenda,” the agency stressed.Mr. Sidibé met with more than 80 health ministers during the World Health Assembly to underscore the commitment of UNAIDS in supporting countries to achieve their universal access goals. He outlined key priority areas in which joint action by the UN could make a significant difference to the AIDS response and a positive contribution to the broader development agenda. In a related development, UNAIDS and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Forum of Arab and African Parliamentarians for Population and Development to work towards achieving access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services for all people in the region. In the agreement, the three parties pledged to strengthen the parliamentarians’ role in addressing universal access, including by creating awareness and influencing public opinion, as well as ensuring that legislation protects and promotes human rights and that funds are allocated to the issue.