Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Lisa Johnson, Celebrating zero babies infected with HIV under PMTCT programs in selected health facilities

Ambassador Lisa Johnson holds little Melody Chipudze who is receiving a bite of cake from the Zambezi Regional Health Director, Ms. Agnes Mwilima.

Congratulations to the clinical staff, community workers, Ministry of Health and Social Services, and most importantly, families and children, on achieving zero cases of HIV infection in 2017 among children born to mothers living with HIV who enrolled in mother-baby follow up in this clinic.

This site is one of 21 PEPFAR-supported Ministry sites across the country with over 50 infants registered in the program. If all sites providing prevention of mother-to-child transmission services are able to follow your good example, Namibia soon will have zero babies born with HIV throughout the country. This is a special goal we all are working towards, and again, I congratulate you on your success.

Less than 4% of infants born to mothers living with HIV nationally become infected themselves. This is already a big step in the right direction. And to have the opportunity to be here today — to celebrate zero cases at site level — is a real pleasure. The achievement of zero cases of mother-to-child transmission in this clinic is truly impressive.

When PEPFAR started supporting Namibia to combat HIV/AIDS in 2004, over 30% of infants born to HIV positive mothers in Namibia were HIV positive. Mother-to-child transmission is entirely preventable, provided that an HIV-positive mother is identified through testing, starts on treatment, and remains on treatment with viral suppression, and that HIV-exposed infants also receive the necessary HIV-preventive therapy.

This is not always easy. Numerous factors explain why we still see cases of mother-to-child transmission. Some women do not access health care services during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Others stop taking their medication.

Our goal has been making access to HIV services easier to ensure treatment is closer to where people live. We do this through decentralization and integration of these services into antenatal and other maternal and child health settings. As a result, we hope to see cases of pregnant and breastfeeding women not accessing health services become non-existent. I am confident we can ensure women and children receive the health services they need.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the community health care workers for all the work they do to support mothers in remaining on treatment. I look forward to learning about how you work with the clinics to support mothers through pregnancy and breastfeeding, to continue taking their medication, and to keep infants HIV negative – doing your part to give these children the best start in life.

Ending the cycle of transmission is a journey for these children. These mothers have been bringing their babies for HIV testing at six weeks, nine months, and 18 months. Testing, and provision of ARV prophylaxis, has been part of the health care routine of these children from birth.

As we celebrate the first hurdle these children have passed, we must remember that it is not the last. We need to continue working hard to ensure that when these children reach young adulthood, they are still HIV negative. Testing needs to continue to be part of their lives, and the lives of all children, adolescents, and adults to ensure that everyone is tested, and when diagnosed HIV positive, put on treatment to achieve viral load suppression.

Thank you and keep up the good work!