Only a few years ago, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. Today, early diagnosis paired with treatment and care allows people to live long, healthy lives and reduces the likelihood of their transmitting the virus to others.

While mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been nearly eliminated from industrialized countries, progress has been slower in many African countries, with more than 90% of new infections among children. Globally, nearly 1.2 million deaths and 2.5 million cases of HIV have been averted as a result of the scale-up of programs to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of HIV (2). However, less than 50 percent of exposed infants under 2 months are tested for HIV.


percentage of children in need who receive life-saving treatment for HIV


percent of infants exposed to HIV tested within two months of birth


percentage point increase in ART coverage for pregnant women living with HIV from 2016 to 2020; this rate has stalled compared to the 38-percentage point increase in coverage from 2010-2015.

HIV Transmission

The majority of underage infections worldwide are found among children living in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Ninety percent of the women in need of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to prevent mother-to-child transmission are found in these same countries.

Major strides have been made to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. A global multi-partner effort has decreased the rate of transmission in children by 53 percent since 2010. More work needs to be done to integrate PMTCT efforts with maternal and newborn health. In 2020, only 54 percent of children in need received life-saving treatment. Approximately 796,000 children are still in need of treatment.

The four-pronged PMTCT strategy includes the following:

  1. Primary prevention of HIV among women of reproductive age within services related to reproductive health, such as antenatal care, postpartum/natal care, and other health and HIV service delivery points, including working with community structures
  2. Providing appropriate counselling and support to women living with HIV to enable them make informed decisions about their future reproductive life, with special attention to preventing unintended pregnancies
  3. For pregnant women living with HIV, ensuring access to HIV testing and to the antiretroviral drugs that will help mothers’ own health and prevent infection being passed on to babies during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding
  4. Better integrating HIV care, treatment, and support for women found to be HIV-positive and their families

Key resources