Mother-to-child transmission of HIV eliminated in Cayman

The World Health Organization on Friday placed the Cayman Islands on a list of countries that have eliminated the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Montserrat, and Saint Kitts and Nevis were also recognized for that distinction Friday, which was the official observation of World AIDS Day.

There have been a total of four documented cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Cayman. Two of those occurred in 1994, and the stricken children have passed away since then.

One is an adopted child who contracted the virus while being born overseas. The last documented case of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Cayman came in 2004.

Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, acting medical officer of health for the Health Services Authority, issued a statement Monday about Cayman’s achievement in eliminating the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“The Cayman Islands Government is pleased to be in receipt of validation of the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis,” he said of the WHO’s announcement. “This validation and certification is the result of work by highly dedicated and committed staff at the Health Services Authority, working with their NGO partners Cayman Islands Red Cross and Cayman AIDS Foundation. We remain steadfast in our focus by strengthening testing for HIV within antenatal clinic services and continuing the provision of antiretroviral therapy to all persons living with HIV.”

According to the Cayman Islands Ministry of Health, there has never been a documented case of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis in Cayman.

Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour released a statement last week regarding World AIDS Day, in which he included statistics regarding AIDS and HIV locally and worldwide. He said there are 69 people in Cayman living with the HIV virus, and there have been 153 identified local cases since 1985.

Mr. Seymour also said that HIV and AIDS have claimed more than 35 million lives over the last three decades, and as of last year, 36.7 million people around the world were living with HIV.

“It is imperative to remember there is no cure for HIV infections,” said Mr. Seymour as part of his official statement. “However, effective antiretroviral drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy, long and productive lives.

“As per the World Health Organization’s theme of ‘Right to Health’ for this year’s World AIDS Day, we strive to provide the best quality healthcare possible for all persons living with HIV in the Cayman Islands. The right to health is a fundamental human right and every person must be able to access the appropriate health services that they need.”

In 2015, Cuba became the first country in the world to receive WHO validation for elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Thailand and Belarus have also received recognition for that achievement, and Armenia was cited for eliminating the transmission of HIV.

Great advances have been made since the Regional Initiative for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis in Latin America and the Caribbean was launched in 2010 by the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

New HIV infections in the Caribbean have dropped by 52 percent among children in that time. There were around 1,800 cases in 2010 and fewer than 1,000 documented cases in 2016.

“The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis is not just a dream; it’s an achievable goal,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today we can say we are closer to ensuring an AIDS-free generation.”