Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean certified as having eliminated the vertical transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis. Nicaragua would be the first such country on the Latin American mainland.
Managua. – In support of the efforts of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) joined a joint mission of international experts to analyze the challenges involved in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
“As UNICEF, we are very happy to accompany the country in the elimination of perinatal HIV infection,” stated UNICEF Health Officer Dr. María Delia Espinoza. “Reaching that point implies a commitment from the Government of National Reconciliation and Unity (government of Nicaragua), while we are supporting this effort as a United Nations agency. Nicaragua is on the right path to achieve this goal.”
The mission visited hospitals and health centres corresponding to the Local Comprehensive Health Care Systems (SILAISs) of Managua and Masaya, as well as maternal houses and social organizations that work with key groups, such as the Centre for HIV Prevention and Education and the Masaya Women’s Centre.
“Generally speaking, it was found that the health personnel had taken ownership of and were committed to implementing the strategy for the elimination of perinatal HIV infection in order to achieve the goals,” stressed Freddy Pérez of the Pan American Health Organization in Washington. “There is a community network structured and consolidated to support the health strategy; advances have been made in the management of the information system and data analysis; there is a human rights-based health care model; and there is linkage of the effective community work to address pregnant women and children with HIV.”
The UNICEF Representative in Nicaragua, Ivan Yerovi, said that requesting a review by a mission of international experts indicates the Nicaraguan government’s commitment to achieving the elimination of these two diseases. He congratulated the Ministry of Health authorities and workers for the findings presented, while also reiterating UNICEF’s firm commitment to continue closely accompanying the country to achieve the goal of elimination and ensure its sustainability.
Nicaragua has a multi-programmatic and intersectoral focus that will allow it to achieve certification in the coming years. “During this visit, we’ve verified that Nicaragua has a network of comprehensive services, which is a comparative advantage for the prevention of and care for cases of HIV among children, and there is a comprehensive approach to the health of pregnant women,” stressed UNAIDS Intercountry Coordinator Hector Succilla. “There are strategies like the maternal houses, which is evidence that we are not seeing HIV prevention in an isolated way.”
MINSA has been receiving accompaniment from UNICEF in the response to HIV and AIDS for ten years. At the beginning the care was only provided to people with HIV in the hospitals of Managua, León and Chinandega. However, five years later MINSA already had 36 health units providing treatment in a decentralized way, including to the Caribbean Coast regions, allowing counselling and testing for pregnant women to increase from less than 30% to over 80% in 2012. This implied working with community leaders, religious leaders, faith-based organizations and social communicators in order to keep the issue of HIV prevention on the country’s agenda.
Experts from the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the Latin American Center for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health participated in the mission, along with personnel from the MINSA HIV Programme and representatives from civil society organizations that work on the response to HIV. The mission was carried out on June 12-17, 2017.