PentaTr@ining Oman 2024: Working together to tackle vertical transmission of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B in maternal and child health

28 Jun, 2024

From 14 to 16 May, 2024, PentaTr@ining in collaboration with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), brought together over 50 paediatric healthcare providers and programme leads from across 11 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region countries for an innovative bespoke capacity-building workshop on the topic of eliminating vertical transmission of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B in the region, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations.

The timely training event marked the occasion with the launch  of the recently developed “Progress Report and Roadmap on Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis B in the Middle East and North Africa/Eastern Mediterranean Region”, the publication of which coincided with the workshop. The roadmap report was developed by the UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office (MENARO), as the lead partner in close collaboration with WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO). This vital report focuses on the progress towards the triple elimination of vertical transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B virus across 23 countries in the MENA region, through the collection and assessment of  national policies and key indicators on vertical transmission efforts against WHO criteria for validation. Based on analysis and consultations with national policymakers, the report provides recommendations for countries at different stages of readiness to follow towards triple elimination goals.

Shirley Mark Prabhu, a Health Specialist (Maternal Newborn ChildAdolescent Health/HIV, and Mental Health) for the UNICEF MENA Regional Office and co-lead for this training workshop highlighted that “the MENA region is experiencing the fastest growing epidemic in the world; the number of people acquiring HIV rose by 54% between 2010 and 2022, and the number of new infections in children and adolescents (0 – 19 years) increased by 13 percent”. While the overall HIV burden remains lower than other regions around the world, the rates of new infections in children and adolescents are concerning.

The 2.5-day hybrid mode course emphasised a mutidisciplinary and holistic approach to healthcare in order to address this challenge, highlighting the importance of robust healthcare systems, strong community engagement strategies, and the crucial need for cross-region collaborations among programme leads to help overcome silos of care, social stigma and other specific barriers to effective testing and treatment. During the workshop, participants identified critical challenges to be addressed and actions to be taken in the four key areas for improvement. These included optimising programme and service delivery to prevent vertical transmission, strengthening data collection and analysis for better programme monitoring, enhancing laboratory and information management systems for improved diagnostics and data management, and fostering community engagement to raise awareness and encourage preventive measures and strengthen referral mechanisms.

According to Ms. Prabhu, a pivotal outcome of the workshop was the commitment from participating countries to  implement their action plans targeting these focus areas. This strategic and constructive approach will work towards ensuring the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of their vertical transmission elimination efforts. The exchange of knowledge and best practices among leading healthcare experts from different countries facilitated the creation of important new network links and meaningfully addressing country and regional barriers. The collaborative nature of the workshop played a critical role in its success and holds immense promise for a healthier and safer future for children, mothers and families across the region.