Skip to main content

Zero new HIV infections among children can be a reality

By Jeffrey Sachs and Michel Sidibé, Special to CNN
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeffrey Sachs, Michel Sidibé: The world has made big gains in reducing new HIV infections
  • Sachs, Sidibé: In upcoming U.N. meetings, leaders should take step toward a critical goal
  • Let's aim to reduce new HIV infections among children to zero by the end of 2015, they say
  • Sachs, Sidibé: We can join forces with African leaders to deploy health workers to reach the goal

Editor's note: Jeffrey Sachs is director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a special adviser to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals. Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAIDS.

(CNN) -- Since the U.N. Millennium Development Goals were launched in 2000, the world has made tremendous gains in reducing new HIV infections and helping people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives.

For a long time, efforts to ensure that a pregnant woman living with HIV would not pass the virus to her child -- during pregnancy, at childbirth, or during breastfeeding -- have lagged behind the promise of technology. But now we can say confidently that with the right efforts, we can reduce new HIV infections among children to zero, even within the short time remaining until the Millennium Development Goals are concluded at the end of 2015.

During the upcoming meeting of leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, the world's governments, NGOs and the private sector should take an important step toward reaching the goal of zero new HIV infections among children.

Jeffrey D. Sachs
Jeffrey D. Sachs
Michel Sidibé
Michel Sidibé

This can be achieved by deploying a new generation of community health workers (CHWs) who will not only help to fight AIDS but also bring other kinds of health care to the communities they are serving. UNAIDS, Columbia University's Earth Institute, many businesses and NGOs have joined forces with African governments in the 1 Million Community Health Workers Campaign to deploy this large number of CHWs across Africa by the end of 2015.

Although we've known for more than a decade that transmission of HIV from a pregnant woman to her child can be stopped through appropriate interventions -- including timely access to antiretroviral medicines -- the practical challenges to eliminating new infections are substantial. Most women in low-income countries give birth at home, without medical assistance, and usually without the benefit of prenatal care.

One key to overcoming these challenges is to ensure that trained health care professionals are on hand to provide prenatal and delivery support, even in the poorest villages. The Millennium Villages Project and UNAIDS are doing just that by building a network of health workers, supported with training, new technology, a supply chain of antiretrovirals and other key inputs, and professional supervision at the level of clinics and hospitals.

Today, teams of trained health workers across the Millennium Villages complement the nurses and midwives in a structured health care system that is providing pregnant women with not only services to prevent HIV transmission, but comprehensive services including prenatal care, counseling for HIV-positive women, access to antiretrovirals and professional follow-up care for newborns.

Nigeria is second in people with AIDS
Charlize Theron fights HIV devastation

The telecoms industry is also playing a new and historic role. In the Millennium Villages system, the health workers are equipped with smartphones. With better technology, community health workers are now accessing real-time emergency guidance, making calls for ambulances in emergencies, maintaining digital health records for each household and more.

With community-based care, the CHWs are able to expand services to reach more women and newborns. For example, in the Millennium Village of Sauri in Kenya, nearly all pregnant women are receiving HIV counseling and testing, compared with fewer than half in 2008. Children who do become infected with HIV are diagnosed earlier and given timely access to HIV treatment, care and support. The community health workers are also playing a growing role in identifying bottlenecks and implementing solutions by engaging decision makers from local to national levels. Challenges such as low acceptance of HIV counseling and testing, commodity stock-outs and infant feeding issues are being identified and addressed with local responses.

Next week as heads of state and global leaders gather at the United Nations, UNAIDS, the Millennium Villages Project and partners in the telecoms industry and beyond will seize the opportunity to make a push for zero new HIV infections among children, and for the 1 Million CHWs in Africa who can help make the goal a reality.

On September 28, we will also join 60,000 people on the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park for Global Citizen Festival -- along with many millions more watching from around the world -- to issue a global appeal for these historic objectives. We believe that the world will rise to the occasion.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Sachs and Michel Sidibé.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT