The proportion of HIV positive pregnant women receiving treatment more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, it said but infection rates are still increasing in some countries, it added.
Untreated, HIV positive women have an up to 45 per cent chance of transmitting the virus to their children.
According to a recent UNAIDS report “How AIDS Changed Everything”, there were 21,000 new infections among children in the Asia-Pacific region in 2014 alone – an average of 57 a day.
With proper treatment, the risk of a mother transmitting the virus falls to about 1 per cent.
Syphilis testing and treatment are lagging behind HIV, both in policy and in practice. Two thirds of the region’s countries recommend syphilis testing and support for women, but actual levels of testing vary widely.
Syphilis can cause serious complications for pregnant women and unborn children, including early foetal loss, stillbirth, neonatal death, low birth weight and serious neonatal infections, it said.
Simple cost-effective screening during pregnancy followed by effective treatment options like penicillin can dramatically reduce the risk of these complications.
“Every single pregnant woman deserves access to HIV and syphilis testing and treatment,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
The gap will be a key area for discussion at the 10th Asia-Pacific United Nations Elimination of Parent-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Syphilis Task Force meeting in Beijing, China, this week.
Senior government representatives and experts from 20 countries will explore ways to eliminate parent-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, including improved detection rates and strengthened adherence to HIV treatment programmes UNICEF said.
It said children living with HIV often do not get the services they needed and only one in four to HIV-positive mothers in the East Asia-Pacific region were tested soon after birth, and only around half of the infants identified as HIV-positive receive the treatment they need.
“No parent or child can be left behind as we push to eliminate HIV and syphilis once and for all,” said Daniel Toole, UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific.
An HIV-positive woman can transmit the virus during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. A schedule of interventions known as “prevention of parent-to-child transmission of HIV,” or PPTCT, provides drugs, counselling and psychological support to help women living with HIV safeguard their infants against the virus.
“If countries in the Asia-Pacific region redouble their efforts and ensure all pregnant women living with HIV are tested early in their pregnancy and receive treatment, then we can reach zero new HIV infections in children,” said Steve Kraus, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.
In June 2015, Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO that it had eliminated parent-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. – Bernama