Cuba Eliminates Transmission of HIV from Mother to Child

By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Cuba eliminated. Clearly, this is fantastic news. Says Dr. Margaret Chen, WHO Director-General, “Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible. This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.” The fight against HIV continues, with a global target of less than 40,000 new child infections per year by 2015.   (In 2013, there were 240,000 children born with HIV worldwide.) It’s hoped that the progress made in Cuba can be extended to the rest of the world.

How did Cuba do it? Root cause analysis can be used to determine causes of positive impacts as well as negatives. Here we will use a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, to determine the causes that resulted in Cuba being declared free of MTCT of HIV. Instead of defining the “problem” in a problem outline, we will define the success using the same format. In this case, the elimination of transmission of HIV from mother to child is the success we’ll be looking at. This success impacts goals as well, though positively. The child safety goal is impacted because it is now very rare (only 2 in 2013) for children to receive HIV from their mothers. The maternal safety goal is impacted because mothers are receiving effective treatment for HIV. Other goals are impacted because of the decreased need for services for children who might otherwise have been infected with HIV.

Beginning with an impacted goal, we can ask Why questions. Why is it rare for children to receive HIV from their mothers? Because the risk of passing HIV from mother to child has been lessened. Why? Because when children are born to HIV-infected mothers, there is decreased exposure to infants from their mother’s bodily fluids, and both mothers and children are being treated effectively for HIV. Decreased exposure to bodily fluids has been accomplished by the use of Cesarean sections and substitution for breastfeeding. Effective HIV treatment results from awareness of the presence of HIV infection from testing performed by healthcare providers, seen as part of a five-year initiative that gave universal healthcare coverage and access. That same access allowed treatment for infected moms and their children with antiretrovirals.

Although this Cause Map is presented as a positive impact to the goals, it could also be presented as an analysis of the problem of HIV transmission from mother to child. The causes would be baby’s exposure to mom’s body fluids, and lack of effective treatment due to lack of knowledge of infection and/or lack of access. The solutions to that Cause Map are the causes presented here in the positive Cause Map. (For example, use of Cesarean sections and substitutions for breastfeeding are solutions to the cause of baby being exposed to mom’s body fluids.)

In order to receive validation from WHO of the elimination of MTCT of HIV, Cuba had to meet very specific indicators for a defined period of time. These indicators do not just measure the overall success of the program (impact indicators), but also measure the success of the initiatives meant to achieve those goals (process indicators). Impact indicators included reducing MTCT of HIV to less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births, less than 5% in breastfeeding populations, and less than 2% in non-breastfeeding populations for at least 1 year. Process indicators included more than 95% of all pregnant women receiving at least one antenatal visit, more than 95% of pregnant women knowing their HIV status, and more than 95% of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral drugs for at least 2 years.

With implementation of similar initiatives across the world, it is hoped that MTCT of HIV will continue to decrease rapidly.

To view the outline, Cause Map, and indicators, click on “Download PDF” above. Click here to read the release from the WHO.