HIV can be transmitted from an HIV-positive woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), which is also referred to as ‘vertical transmission’, accounts for the vast majority of new infections in children.
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programmes provide antiretroviral treatment (ART) to HIV-positive pregnant women to stop their infants from acquiring the virus.
Without treatment, the likelihood of HIV passing from mother-to-child is 15% to 45%. However, ART and other effective PMTCT interventions can reduce this risk to below 5%.1
Around 1.6 million new HIV infections among children have been prevented since 1995 due to the implementation of PMTCT services. Of these, 1.3 million are estimated to have been averted in the five years, between 2010 and 2015.2
Despite this significant progress, in 2015 23% of pregnant women living with HIV did not have access to ARVs and 150,000 children (400 children a day) became infected with HIV.3
A comprehensive approach to PMTCT
Effective PMTCT programmes require women and their infants to have access to - and to take up - a cascade of interventions including antenatal services and HIV testing during pregnancy; use of ART by pregnant women living with HIV; safe childbirth practices and appropriate infant feeding; uptake of infant HIV testing and other post-natal healthcare services.4
The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes a comprehensive approach to PMTCT programmes which includes:
preventing new HIV infections among women of childbearing age
preventing unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV
preventing HIV transmission from a woman living with HIV to her baby
providing appropriate treatment, care and support to mothers living with HIV and their children and families.