Seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the world's worst-hit region in the global Aids epidemic, have cut the number of new HIV infections in children by 50% since 2009, the UNAids programme said yesterday.
The dramatic reductions - in Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia - mean that tens of thousands more babies are now being born free of HIV, UNAids said in a report on its global plan to tackle the disease in about 20 of the worst-affected countries.
Overall, across 21 priority countries in Africa, there were 130000 fewer new HIV infections among children in 2012 - a drop of 38% since 2009 - mostly due to increased drug treatment of pregnant women with the virus.
"The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that, with focused effort, every child can be born free of HIV," UNAids executive director Michel Sidib said.
"But progress has stalled in some countries, with high numbers of new HIV infections. We need to find out why."
Among the countries causing concern, UNAids said, are Angola and Nigeria, where new infections in children have, respectively, increased and remained unchanged since 2009.
Nigeria has the largest number of children contracting HIV in the region, with nearly 60000 new cases last year.
Access to drugs for children who do become infected is "unacceptably low", UNAids said, with only three in 10 children getting the medicines they need.
The report said much of the reduction in new HIV cases in children was attributable to the increased use of drugs treatments for HIV-positive pregnant women.
Treatment coverage rates are above 75% in many countries.
Botswana and South Africa have reduced mother-to-child HIV transmission rates to 5% or less, according to UNAids.
Eric Goosby, global Aids coordinator for the US government, called on the international community to "continue working together to see the day when no children are born with HIV, which is within our reach".