Thailand becomes first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV

Thai health authorities say the number of women newly infected with HIV has drastically reduced.

Thailand has become the first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

This is an important milestone in Thailand's aggressive campaign to reduce new cases of the Aids virus. But experts have said that there are still several problems regarding this issue which includes a rising rate of new HIV infections among gay men and transgender people.

However, this is a breakthrough for a generation of Thai health workers who succeeded in transforming the nation from one of Asia's most HIV-ravaged societies to one that has proved that such a crisis can be handled effectively.

WHO said this elimination is a "remarkable achievement" and said that Thailand has "demonstrated to the world that HIV can be defeated".

Apart from Thailand, Cuba is the only other country which has successfully eliminated mother-to-child transmission under the WHO's criteria.

The global health organization said Thailand's routine screening process and universal free medication for pregnant women with HIV played a very important role in stopping the virus being passed to the next generations.

Mothers who are suffering from HIV have 15-45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, childbirth or even while breastfeeding. Hence, it needed proper treatment.

As a part of the treatment, patients were given antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) during pregnancy which helped in reducing those transmitting chances significantly to just over one percent.

According to WHO, Thailand was one of the first countries in the world which provided free antiretroviral medication to all pregnant women diagnosed with HIV in the year 2000. Even in the most remote areas, there is proper routine screening for the virus during pregnancy.

The Thai Ministry of Public Health said that 98 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV have access to ARVs.

According to Thai health authorities, the number of women newly infected with HIV has drastically reduced to 1,900 in 2014, from 15,000 in 2000.

"Thailand's progress shows how much can be achieved when science and medicine are underpinned by sustained political commitment," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe told AFP.