In 2014 alone, as many as 150,000 children under the age of 15 with HIV died of opportunistic infections in low-to-middle income countries.
Now, a new study suggests that not only were many of these infections and deaths potentially preventable had the children received antiretroviral therapy (ART) to support their depleted immune systems, but also that doing so in the future would reduce the costs of treating the diseases the children develop, saving close to $18 million per year.
“At the moment, only about one third of children under the age of 15 who are in need of ART are likely to receive antiretroviral treatment, compared with two-thirds of adults,” says Marie-Renée B-Lajoie, from the family medicine department at McGill University.
“This means that there are still large numbers of children with HIV, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, who are vulnerable to opportunistic and other infectious diseases such as TB, bacterial pneumonia, and diarrhea. And that the costs of treating them, both in financial and human terms remain very high.”
For the study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers reviewed data from 88 studies covering close to 20 years between 1990 and 2013 and involving almost 56,000 children with HIV, living in low and middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. WHO guidelines—released in 2015—now recommend ART initiation for all children and adolescents, with priority given to those who have yet to reach their first birthday.
“Although the numbers of newly-infected children as well as the numbers of children who die from HIV-related deaths has declined dramatically since 2000, despite WHO recommendations, children are still less likely to be offered ART treatment than adults,” says Lajoie.
“But the research shows that there is still a need for more programs for early infant diagnosis of HIV, as well as better mother-child prevention programs and better supply systems to provide pediatric strength ART needed to reduce and eventually eliminate HIV in children in low and middle-income countries.”
The World Health Organization funded the work.
Source: McGill University