Malaysia is currently celebrating a milestone victory in progress towards preventing preventable diseases in babies. It has become the first country in the Western Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis.
Malaysia was one of the early global adopters of the program Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) for HIV and syphilis, starting antenatal screening in 1997. Today, services are fully integrated within Malaysia’s Family Health Programs, and testing is provided free of charge. Virtually all women have access to quality health services including contraception and birth assisted by skilled healthcare workers. This programming strategy has dramatically reduced the number of babies born with either syphilis or HIV and is compatible with global elimination criteria.
Transmission of HIV can occur from an HIV-positive woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. This type of transmission accounts for the vast majority of new HIV infections in children, and remains a significant challenge for low- and middle-income countries in breaking this cycle of transmission. However, Malaysia has made great progress through the PMTCT programs.
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs provides 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 1%.
“Achieving elimination is not the end of our struggle to ensure every Malaysian child starts life healthy and free of HIV and syphilis,” said Malaysia’s Minister of Health, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad. “It’s the beginning of a never-ending journey to provide exceptional quality of care to prevent all infections that pass from mother to child. The next target we’re aiming for is hepatitis B. It is my sincere hope that this program, which is a source of national pride and importance, shall be further enhanced in the years to come through constant engagement with civil society and strong political support.”