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Belize certified for EMTCT of HIV and syphilis

GeneralBelize certified for EMTCT of HIV and syphilis

Photo: (l-r) Jamaica, Belize, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines receiving certification from WHO for EMTCT

Belize gets certified by WHO for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Tues. May 7, 2024

Belize’s representatives joined the health ministers of two other Caribbean countries at an award ceremony in Kingston, Jamaica after the country was certified for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV and syphilis.

EMTCT is recognized as a global public health priority, particularly because statistics show that an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV and syphilis are becoming pregnant each year, and that 15% to 45% of those women transmit HIV to their child during either pregnancy, labor, or even breastfeeding, while an estimated 50%-80% of maternal syphilis results in adverse births.

Entities such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), all of which collaborated to recognize these countries, are actively working to eradicate this health issue.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the criteria for the EMTCT certification requires that countries record no more than 50 new pediatric HIV infections per 100,000 live births, with a transmission rate below 5% in breastfeeding populations or below 2% in non-breastfeeding populations. For syphilis, the criteria specify no more than 50 cases of congenital syphilis per 100,000 live births.

Up until today, 11 out of the 19 countries certified for EMTCT were located in the Americas. This included Cuba, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica.

With its last case of congenital syphilis detected in 1979, Belize joins Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as the latest addition to the list.

“It’s a very historic event because it’s our first [time] we’re being certified now. And it’s for us as a country, along with the other Caribbean countries, to celebrate this accomplishment. The countries were really happy to receive this, because we know, as part of the healthcare workers that … how much it takes for us to reach the level that we are right now,” shared nurse Esther Deville, who accompanied the Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Kevin Bernard, to Jamaica.

The process required an international team that spent time in Belize evaluating active cases and lab data at different facilities throughout the country. “It’s just not coming and saying, ‘Oh, we present this.’ No, we were literally evaluated. It was a very tedious evaluation at the different points at the health centers, at the hospital setting, and the labs as well, because the labs do play a big role in us getting this accomplishment as well,” Deville added.

She noted that the key to achieving this accomplishment was having the proper resources, dedicated staff, constant patient testing and treatment, and continuous monitoring of these viruses and infections.

In a press release issued today, Minister Bernard stated, “Eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is an extremely significant accomplishment for the people and the country of Belize. The activities leading up to this momentous goal were not always easy; however, with the commitment and motivation of our healthcare workers, in all areas of health, this has become a reality. We continue to work towards achieving public health goals for a healthier and more productive Belize.”

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