An estimated 900 babies in the developing world are infected with HIV every day because governments fail to reach pregnant women with prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services.
In eastern and southern Africa, 70 percent of women see a health care provider at least once during their pregnancy, but just 43 percent have an attendant present during delivery who can administer treatment to prevent HIV transmission.
"We are doing a bad job of testing women for HIV and then following them up, and an even worse job of ensuring that infants receive appropriate prevention and treatment services," Janet Kayita, regional PMTCT advisor to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told a press conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 25 May this year.
The press briefing followed a regional consultation, hosted by UNICEF, on accelerating PMTCT and paediatric treatment in the nine countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - which accounted for half of all new HIV infections globally in 2008.
Kofi Annan, The ex UN secretary general claimed that between 1999 and 2000 more people died of AIDS in Africa than in all the wars on the continent. The death toll is expected to have a severe impact on many economies in the region and in some nations it is already being felt. Life expectancies in some nations is already decreasing rapidly, while mortality rates are increasing.
24 Million willl die
The year 2000 began with 24 million Africans infected with the virus. In absence of a medical miracle nearly all will die by next year. each day 6,000 Africans die from AIDS, and each day an additional 11,000 are infected.
According to Uganda's national policy, PMTCT services should also be available at all sub-county level health centres, but a shortage of health workers means that only 53 percent of these facilities actually offer them.
Although there are numerous factors in the spread of HIV and AIDS, it is largely recognised as a disease of poverty, hitting hardest where people are marginalised and suffering economic hardship and aid agencies are being urged by UNICEF to promote the factors of HIV and AIDS to produce funding form Western societies.
"National guidelines are not disseminated as fast as they should be to the district level," Kayita said.
"These policies must become a reality for the people they were designed to help," she added. "We need to strengthen primary health care systems at the lowest level, so that every visit a woman makes to a health centre counts."
Community involvement is essential to reducing HIV-related stigma that could lead mothers to refuse being tested for HIV or to insist on breastfeeding against medical advice.
Whilst poverty is undoubtedly a crucial factor as to why health problems are so severe in Africa, political will of national governments is paramount and constraints such as social norms and taboos or lack of decisive or effective institutions have all contributed to the situation getting worse.
Other recommendations by the UNICEF report included better data management to understand trends, identification of bottlenecks, measuring the impact of interventions, and prioritising geographic areas where prevalence was highest.
Governments participating in the consultation are expected to put in place policies that will help achieve the universal targets of 80 percent PMTCT coverage and a 50 percent reduction in new paediatric infections by the end of 2010.
Read the full report from UNICEF