Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis by Thailand

20 June 2016, Bangkok, Thailand

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered here today to mark an important moment in the global effort to eliminate new HIV infections among children.

On the 7th of June Thailand became the first country in Asia to be certified as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. It was also the first time that a country with a large HIV epidemic achieved this feat.

In Thailand today more than 95% of all pregnant women living with HIV receive antiretroviral therapy. The rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission is less than 2%.

Whereas at the turn of the millennium an estimated 1000 children in the country were newly infected with HIV, in 2015 the number of children who become infected was 85. This is a remarkable achievement in a country where an estimated 440 000 people live with the disease.

Indeed, for far too long it was assumed that only the wealthiest countries could obtain immediate access to biomedical breakthroughs, and that everyone else would have to wait years or even decades to benefit from lifesaving technologies. Beginning with AIDS, however, non-OECD countries have attempted to guarantee the same standard of care as is available among their wealthier peers.

In acknowledging Thailand’s success in doing so, and in working to protect the health and wellbeing of future generations across the South-East Asia Region and the world, we must understand how Thailand’s most recent achievement was made possible.

First, Thailand’s success in preventing new HIV infections across all demographics reduced the burden of HIV among women of childbearing age. From 2000 to 2014, the annual number of women newly infected with HIV in Thailand fell from 15 000 to 1900 – an 87% reduction. We would not be celebrating today had Thailand not made HIV prevention a major national priority.

Second, Thailand has been steadfast in its pursuit of universal health coverage. In Thailand, essential health services are available to both rich and poor, making the country’s health system a model to emulate the world over. Though limited AIDs budgets are often unable to sustain the costs of essential screening and treatment programs, Thailand has demonstrated that with a sound, well-designed health system that includes the participation of diverse sectors, public health goals can be achieved.

This is all the more noteworthy as we pursue the Sustainable Development Goals, a core part of which requires the attainment of universal health coverage.

Finally, Thailand has demonstrated a visionary commitment to providing equitable access. Like all Thai citizens, immigrants are also covered for HIV treatment. In our increasingly connected and mobile world, withholding lifesaving health services based on one’s country of origin is inhumane and contrary to basic principles of public health and human rights.

Thailand’s achievement also offers inspiration as we work towards the SDG goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. Political commitment, community engagement, and evidence-based interventions have been central to what Thailand and other countries around the world have achieved thus far.

These achievements have also been facilitated by transformative international partnerships, not only between the North and South but also South-South partnerships. Thailand has not only benefited from such partnerships, but has also served as a critical source of knowledge, learning and best practices in relation to AIDS.

Indeed, Thailand has been home to some of the most important HIV clinical trials and implementation studies, including with respect to prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Thailand’s early pioneering of condom promotion for sex workers has inspired effective HIV prevention measures across the world, in both rich and developing countries alike.

And as Thailand’s investments in health get the country on track to achieve the 90-90-90 target before the 2020 deadline, it is showing the entire world what it takes to fully leverage antiretroviral therapy to reduce new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.

Having eliminated mother-to-child HIV transmission, Thailand’s efforts to end AIDs can now be focused on the MSM community, among whom the epidemic is increasing. It also has the opportunity to address HIV’s continuing prevalence among drug users.

Given Thailand’s successes and commitment, I am confident that the country will go from strength-to-strength in its battle to control the disease.

Keeping in mind the ambitious Agenda for Sustainable Development, let us also take a moment today to do two things. Let us first congratulate and celebrate Thailand for its extraordinary achievement in eliminating new HIV infections among children. But let us also renew our determination to ensure that this achievement is the first of many. Indeed, we must use this milestone as a springboard for other health gains.

We look forward, for example, to Thailand fast-tracking efforts to eliminate malaria ahead of the 2026 target and reinforcing the worldwide struggle against artemisinin resistance. We also look ahead to Thailand’s approach for eliminating TB, which could prove instructive for the wider Region. And we anticipate keenly the expansion of Thailand’s path-breaking work on health promotion to address the rising toll of non-communicable diseases.

At WHO we are immensely proud to have worked with and supported Thailand in its efforts to safeguard the health of all, and look forward to making many more public health gains in the future.

Thank you very much.