The United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 will remain a mirage if children and young people are not given access to Anti-retro viral treatment, medics have said.
According to UNICEF, of the 1.7 million children aged 0-14 living with HIV globally, only 54 per cent were receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2018.
Globally, children under 15 account for about five per cent of all people living with HIV, 9 per cent of new HIV infections and 13 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths.
Speaking during the International Conference on HIV/AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), in a session that tackled issues and consequences in HIV prevention and treatment, medics raised concerns about the insufficient ART coverage to children and the unpleasant numbers of infections among the children, especially through mother to child transmission.
UNICEF estimates that in 2018, 160,000 children were newly infected with HIV, mainly through transmission of the virus from their mothers during pregnancy, delivery or while breastfeeding.
In the same year, an estimated 120,000 children died of AIDS-related causes globally; and the vast majority of these deaths were preventable, either through antibiotic treatment of opportunistic infections and/or through antiretroviral treatment.
Chip Lyons President and CEO of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation told the participants about the threat posed by the lack of ARVs access to the infected children as the world looks at ending the epidemic in 2030,
“I do think the notion of ending the epidemic as a public health crisis in 2030 is in serious doubt if we can’t get on the children and young people on drugs over the next short period of time,” he said.
Elizabeth Glazer Foundation seeks to end pediatric HIV/AIDS through international research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs in over 5,000 sites in 19 countries.
Commenting on Lyons’ speech, Linda-Gail Bekker a Professor of Medicine and Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in South Africa rooted for more efforts Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) to avoid transmission of the virus to children and efforts to give drugs to the infected,
“If we are not walking forward, we are sliding back - there is no standing stone in this epidemic. The epidemic waits for no one,” she said.
According to UNICEF, children under 1 year of age are among those most vulnerable to HIV.
Nadia Sam-Agudu, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore USA highlighted the relationship between the prevention of HIV transmission to children, and the ARV treatment among infected women,
“The optimisation of coverage of ART among pregnant women with HIV is tied to the reduction of new infections among children especially younger children,” she said.
She called for efforts to prioritise children and adolescents in the global AIDS response, among which she said there is need to address the treatment quality gap for children, and differentiated service delivery for adolescents.
According to UNICEF, early diagnosis and treatment are particularly critical in the case of infants.
The ‘Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy’ study from South Africa demonstrated a 76 per cent reduction in mortality when treatment is initiated in the first 12 weeks of life among infants who test positive for HIV.