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Namibia Becomes First African Country to Eliminate Mother-to-Child HIV and Hepatitis B Transmission

The southern African country was presented with an award on Monday for its achievement in what the WHO said was a concerted strategy to curb the transmission of hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis.

Namibia has become the first country in Africa to reach a key milestone in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and hepatitis B, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The southern African country was presented with an award on Monday for its achievement in what the WHO said was a concerted strategy to curb the transmission of hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis.

“Namibia has integrated primary health care with antenatal, child health and sexual and reproductive health services. The government committed stable domestic finance to national health programmes, offering widely accessible, quality and free of charge clinical services and support,” WHO said in a statement.

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Already, eastern and southern Africa alone is home to more than half the world’s HIV burden and Africa accounts for two thirds of new hepatitis B infections globally. In Namibia more than 200 000 people live with HIV and new infections disproportionately impact females.

But having adopted a National Elimination Strategy since 2014 and in line with WHO guidelines, the country has been able to avoid the vertical transmission of HIV as testing among pregnant women is almost universally available across the country.

Access to HIV treatment has also led to a 70% reduction of vertical transmission in the last 20 years. In 2022, only 4% of babies born to mothers living with HIV acquired the virus. Almost 80% of infants received a timely birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine, one of the key metrics of success on the path to elimination.

“Namibia has met this milestone by taking a truly integrated approach to the HIV response from early on. The country has not addressed HIV in isolation as a single disease, but as part of a broader health and development agenda, encompassing maternal and child health for all. Namibia has reached mothers and their children, even in the most rural areas,” said Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

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The validation process, led by WHO in collaboration with UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA, evaluates data and standardizes milestones for eliminating diseases. Among other factors, WHO certifies a country as having attained silver tier status when the hepatitis B vaccine is given to 50% or more newborn babies. Bronze certification is awarded to countries which have reduced the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 5%.

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