Mosaic of the Cuban flag

Cuba nearly eliminates mother-to-child HIV infections

Cuba on 30 June became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and syphilis. Low-level transmission still occurs there: In 2013, three babies were born with congenital syphilis and two with HIV. But the country has met the official WHO criteria for elimination: fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 live births for at least 1 year.

Although Cuba is a relatively small country with an extremely low prevalence of HIV—it has fewer than 4000 HIV-infected women—Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne called this “a truly historic accomplishment.” Etienne said Cuba’s elimination of MTCT of HIV and syphilis “provides inspiration for other countries.”

WHO estimates that worldwide, some 240,000 babies were born with HIV in 2013 and 1 million women pregnant women are infected with syphilis each year. Countries must apply for validation of elimination, a process that involves documentation and site visits, and Etienne said that some 30 other countries are requesting that status. She noted that at least two large countries, the United States and Canada, likely have reached the elimination goal but are not seeking WHO validation.