ICAP will partner with UNICEF to accelerate progress towards eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

This new initiative— _Optimizing HIV Treatment Access for Pregnant Women (OHTA)_ —aims to strengthen the capacity of primary health care systems to deliver antiretroviral treatment (ART) for HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women in Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together, these countries represent 22 percent of the global gap in ART coverage for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT).

ICAP will work with UNICEF to strengthen the capacity of healthcare systems in the four target countries to support treatment initiation of pregnant and breastfeeding women through Option B/B+, a simplified approach for PMTCT.

This project builds on existing PMTCT programs in each country and a shared commitment by national authorities to be early adopters of Option B/B+. These options provide effective ART regimens for prevention of HIV transmission from pregnant women to their infants. In addition to creating an enabling environment for the transition to Option B/B+, the project aims to increase demand and uptake of PMTCT services by the women and to enhance monitoring and evaluation for timely decision making to improve the quality of the services provided.

This partnership leverages ICAP’s technical, operational and research expertise in PMTCT and experience working with governments in over 20 high HIV burden countries. ICAP’s role will focus on provision of technical support, working closely with UNICEF and the ministries of health to pilot and implement enhanced monitoring and evaluation systems to improve retention in care of pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children after beginning Option B+.

“With the new WHO guidelines released in July 2013 that recommend initiating all pregnant and breastfeeding women on ART, PMTCT programs are taking on characteristics of antiretroviral treatment programs that must provide continuity care for both mother and child,” said Dr. Elaine Abrams, ICAP research director and a recognized expert in PMTCT and pediatric HIV, who will lead ICAP’s contribution to this partnership. “Ensuring that pregnant women and their infants stay on treatment is critical, as well as safeguarding coherence between PMTCT and ART programs,” she added.

This initiative will also make significant investments in enhancing community to health facility linkages and will enable identifying effective strategies to achieve such linkages.

“Through this partnership, UNICEF will be looking to ICAP to facilitate strong knowledge management to help strengthen the evidence around implementing lifelong HIV treatment in maternal and child health settings. What we’re learning in supporting these countries can inform the discussion around B+ at the regional and global level,” said UNICEF’s Craig McClure, the head of UNICEF’s HIV global program.

This initiative is considered an essential first step towards realizing the hope of an AIDS-free generation.

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