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Namibia Becomes First to Eliminate Mother-to-child HIV, Hepatitis B Transmission in Africa

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WHO Tobacco Africa

The African Region Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has disclosed that Namibia has become the first country in Africa, as well as the first high-burden country in the world, to reach a significant milestone on the path towards eliminating vertical mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and viral hepatitis B.

The WHO on Monday said Eastern and Southern Africa is home to more than half the world’s HIV burden, and Africa accounts for two-thirds of new hepatitis B infections globally.

Namibia is home to more than 200 000 people living with HIV and new infections disproportionately impact females, it stated, adding that progress is possible, as, globally, 2.5 million children have avoided vertical transmission of HIV since 2010, 28 000 of whom are in Namibia.

HIV testing among pregnant women is almost universally available across the country, and access to treatment has led to a 70 per cent reduction in vertical transmission in the last 20 years.

In 2022, only four per cent of babies born to mothers living with HIV acquired the virus.

Eighty per cent of infants received a timely birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine, one of the critical metrics of success on the path to elimination, the health body stated.

Namibia has integrated primary health care with antenatal, child health and sexual and reproductive health services.

It also noted that the government committed stable domestic finance to national health programmes, which offer widely accessible, quality and free-of-charge clinical services and support.

Based on specified criteria, WHO said it awarded Namibia “silver tier” status for progress on reducing hepatitis B and “bronze tier” for progress on HIV, saying the country’s achievement follows a concerted strategy to curb the transmission of hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis.

This is a landmark achievement by Namibia that demonstrates the life-saving possibilities of committed political leadership and effective implementation of public health priorities,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

With concerted efforts, we can accelerate progress to reach the goals of ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis – the triple elimination.

The validation process, led by WHO in collaboration with UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA, evaluates data and standardises milestones for eliminating diseases.

Among other factors, WHO certifies a country as having attained silver tier status when the hepatitis B vaccine is given to 50% or more newborn babies.

Bronze certification is awarded to countries which have reduced the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 5%.

In many countries, we are failing our children by not reaching them with the same treatment with which we reach their mothers and other adults, said Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UNAIDS Regional Director, East and Southern Africa.

Namibia has fought against this injustice, and we are proud to celebrate their immense effort to leave no child behind. They serve as a beacon for the entire region.

Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, also said:

Namibia has met this milestone by taking a truly integrated approach to the HIV response from early on.

The country has not addressed HIV in isolation as a single disease but as part of a broader health and development agenda encompassing maternal and child health for all. Namibia has reached mothers and their children, even in the most rural areas. she said.

According to WHO, Namibia started its first National Elimination Strategy in 2014. In 2020, they introduced the National Roadmap to Eliminate HIV, syphilis, and later viral hepatitis B.

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