Giving Mothers a Very Special Gift

What is the greatest gift we can give a mother this Mother's Day? There are many answers, but one is to help her live and help her children live a healthy life.

As we celebrate Mother's Day and think about mothers around the world, the American people are working through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to make every day Mother's Day. This program is quietly saving lives every day, restoring the health and hope of mothers and children.

Each year, nearly 400,000 children are born with HIV around the world, with sub-Saharan Africa being the most challenged region. In June of last year PEPFAR and UNAIDS joined with other partners to launch the Global Plan, an initiative to eliminate new HIV infections among children and keep their mothers alive. Its central goal is to reduce the number of new pediatric infections by 90 percent by 2015 in 22 countries which carry 90 percent of the global burden. The goal is daunting, but achievable.

Science has long established that we have the tools to push the rate of new infections of children downward dramatically. In each PEPFAR country, we prioritize a strategic combination of activities based on sound scientific evidence to maximize impact on reducing new HIV infections among children and saving lives. It is working: in 2011 alone, we supported programs that tested nearly 10 million pregnant women. Of these, more than 660,000 pregnant women were found to be living with HIV, and provision of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to these women allowed more than 200,000 infants to be born HIV-free. It's hard to get a grip on such large numbers -- 200,000 babies who now have an opportunity to live long and healthy lives. What better gift can a mother receive than giving birth to a healthy child?

Throughout my travels with PEPFAR, I've met incredibly inspiring women who are so grateful for this gift. In Rwanda, I learned of Theresa and how she discovered she and her husband were HIV-positive during her third pregnancy. She immediately started on ARVs, accessed through a PEPFAR program integrated with maternal and child health services. As a result, her third and fourth children have been born HIV-free. Over this past year in Rwanda alone, we have supported these services for more than 150,000 women, and now about 90 percent of HIV-positive women deliver healthy babies in health facilities -- real progress.

Our programs offer an opportunity to improve the coverage of HIV-positive women on antiretroviral treatment -- keeping them healthy, while also significantly decreasing their risk of transmitting the virus to their unborn children and uninfected partners. When an HIV-positive pregnant woman enters the health care system, it provides an opportunity to link the rest of her family with highly effective prevention interventions, such as HIV counseling and testing for other family members, treatment for eligible male partners, voluntary male medical circumcision, and other life saving health services.

The science is clear, and though the road ahead will not be easy, the opportunity before us is extraordinary. We can now say, as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton did last year, that achieving an HIV-free generation is possible. As we have learned from the 30-year history and struggle of AIDS, extraordinary things happen when we work together. By uniting around our common humanity in a spirit of sharing, in responding to a challenge in front of us, we can give a chance at a full life to children and mothers around the world. Preventing new HIV infections in children is a smart investment that saves lives, and the United States is proud to partner with countries throughout the world to champion this cause.

This Mother's Day, let's sharpen our resolve to ensure that mothers everywhere have children who are born HIV-free.