Kenya: Many Children Miss Out On Life-Saving Drugs

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"We have many more sites diagnosing children than sites where they can access ART services," she says.

HIV diagnosis for children under two requires specialised laboratories, of which there are six in the country. "Correct and timely HIV diagnosis for young children has been slow," Mate told IPS.

This shortage of paediatric treatment sites partly explains why, among 150,000 children eligible for ART in 2012, almost six out of 10 were not receiving it, according to the Progress Report 2013 of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

At six percent, HIV prevalence in Kenya is in moderate decline, says UNAIDS, with 13,000 newly infected children in 2012, down from 23,000 in 2009.

In the absence of ART, one-third of HIV-positive babies will die before their first birthday and more than half before their second birthday.

Matu notes that many health care workers don't know how to deal with HIV in children: "They go around in circles without informing the parent or guardian that the child is HIV-infected until it is too late to save the child's life."

Some parents and health workers believe that the survival of HIV-positive children is so poor that their early death must be accepted, Matu adds.

Many barriers

The UNICEF report lists several barriers to paediatric ART. Among them are limited availability of fixed-dose ARV combinations, poor palatability of recommended drug formulations for infants, lack of technology to test HIV infection among children under 18 months and fewer ART options for children than for adults.

Of the 22 ARVs approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, five are not approved for use in children and another six are not available in paediatric formulations, according to UNAIDS.

Mary Naliaka, a health worker in paediatric AIDS with the Ministry of Health, explains that effective ART for kids requires a complex treatment formula.

"Changing dosage as a child grows is a major challenge," she says. "One needs complex calculations to guide the adjustment."

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