Announcing Faster to Zero, a New Initiative to End Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV

Faster to Zero will use digital health tools to accelerate the end of mother-to-child transmission of HIV

10 November 2015 – HealthEnabled and Knowledge for Health (K4Health) are proud to announce  “Faster to Zero,” a new initiative that will use digital health tools to accelerate the end of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in two countries. Launched along with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID, and Johnson & Johnson, Faster to Zero is being implemented in South Africa as well as in another country to be determined. A public-private partnership supported through matched funding from PEPFAR and Johnson & Johnson, Faster to Zero uses proven digital health tools to strengthen programmes to identify HIV-positive pregnant women, start treatment for those who test positive, and ensure their babies test HIV-negative at age one. By using real numbers to guide treatment, rather than estimates, data from these digital health tools will ensure women are receiving the right services at the right time – altogether helping the most at-risk populations become AIDS-free faster.

While significant progress has been made in South Africa to reduce the country’s mother-to-child HIV transmission rate down to 2.6%, more progress can be made. Faster to Zero is working closely with South Africa’s Department of Health to harness digital technologies to effectively eliminate HIV transmission from mothers to babies, aiming to prevent over 7 800 new infections each year.

“PEPFAR remains committed to the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive. Technology-based solutions will accelerate our efforts to work more efficiently and effectively to do the right things, in the right places, right now, in the right way,” says Lisa Nelson, Deputy Coordinator for Program Quality from the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy.

Getting to zero will require collaboration with digital health efforts already underway, including MomConnect in South Africa, a groundbreaking, national government programme that started in 2014 and uses mobile phones to register pregnant women, send them weekly health messages, and collect their feedback on the quality of health services. In its first year of operation, MomConnect registered over 500 000 women, or approximately one woman every minute, with high potential for reaching those pregnant women who are HIV-positive.

“Through MomConnect we can reach high-risk mothers with targeted messages about EMTCT. Identifying these mothers is key, and we can expand the MomConnect registration system to gather the necessary data to find out which mothers need the most support,” says Peter Barron, Technical Advisor to the South African Department of Health.

“We now know which mothers are most likely to drop out of the PMTCT programme: those who are young, who are pregnant for the first time, who don’t visit the clinic early or who haven’t disclosed their HIV status are at higher risk. We can use the expanded MomConnect system to identify these women and help them access PMTCT and stay on it,” says Peter Benjamin, HealthEnabled Country Director.

Using this approach in South Africa and elsewhere, Faster to Zero will assess the situation and select promising digital health tools to use among the most at-risk populations to support the continuum of care from identification of HIV-positive women to an HIV-negative test for their children at age one.

“Digital health solutions offer tremendous promise to help end mother to child transmission, but only if efforts are coordinated,” says Dr. Tara Sullivan, Director of K4Health. “By bringing coherence to the existing digital landscape, and aligning these efforts within a country context, Faster to Zero will ultimately improve the coverage, quality and capacity of EMTCT programs.”

Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé commented that an AIDS-free generation is not only feasible but also likely to come soon: “The world went from millions to billions and each dollar invested today is producing a US$ 17 return,” he said. “If we frontload investments and fast-track our efforts over the next five years, we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.”

Many countries have made significant progress in reducing the number of new infections, but to truly eliminate the epidemic, they must register and track those who are HIV-positive. Technology has advanced sufficiently so that with additional facilitation support, digital health tools can break through fragmentation to identify and track HIV-positive women, guide safe delivery of their babies, and follow up with them to ensure children are HIV-negative at their first birthday.

Faster to Zero aims to bring together the necessary partners and experts — from promising digital health tools like MomConnect, to funders and governments — to sustain these efforts in the long run and ensure this continuum of care can truly make that AIDS-free generation a reality.

Dr Joanne Peter, Advisor to Johnson & Johnson commented, “The promise of technology lies in its ability to connect mothers, communities, health workers, and the broader health system. At Johnson & Johnson, we hope to support HIV-positive mothers and retain them in care by using digital tools to enable more coordinated, efficient, and patient-centred health services.”

About HealthEnabled

HealthEnabled is dedicated to modernizing national health systems through the use of evidence-based technology interventions. HealthEnabled partners with national governments to develop and operationalize their digital health strategies and aggregate global data to evaluate the state of digital health worldwide.  HealthEnabled works at the country level by: 1) supporting relevant policy development for digital health integration and acceleration, 2) building coalitions for effective and efficient digital health, 3) ensuring implementation through appropriate resource allocation and design of accountability frameworks, and 4) creating mechanisms for long-term capacity. Learn more at


About Knowledge for Health

The Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project is the flagship knowledge management project of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Global Health, Office of Population and Reproductive Health.  K4Health envisions a social knowledge sharing revolution, in which health program managers and service providers at all levels around the world collaborate with and learn from each other, and adapt and use actionable family planning and global health knowledge to build stronger health systems and enable people to live healthier lives.​ Our mission is to improve health services in low- and middle-income countries. K4Health is implemented by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP), FHI 360, IntraHealth International, and Management Sciences for Health (MSH), in collaboration with a host of partners around the world. Learn more at


For more information please contact:

Dr Peter Benjamin
South Africa, Country Director
+27 82 829 3353
skype: peterbenjamin

Dr Olivia Velez
Executive Director
+01 (646) 685 7351
skype: olivia_velez

James BonTempo

Director of ICT & Innovation
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Center for Communication Programs
+1 410-659-6124

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