KAMPALA, Uganda– Infants infected with HIV during childbirth, are at extremely high risk of dying in the first two years of life. But so many of them are never diagnosed or treated as inadequate HIV testing and treatment for children is a widespread challenge.
Although, according to UNICEF, the 2019 global treatment rate for HIV-positive mothers stands at 82 per cent, the diagnosis and treatment of children with HIV is just 54 per cent in most regions.
UGANET recognizes that this gap in coverage is often because diagnostic processes tend to be more complicated and cumbersome for children, and infants require a special type of testing for HIV (virological), which is not readily available in most communities and health centres. And although there are age-appropriate antiretroviral medicines for children, they can be hard to find in many areas largely due to a lack of investment in testing them.
Luckily, UNICEF and Uganda’s Ministry of Health enacted HIV treatment reforms for children to great success, and with the help of partners and innovative diagnostic tools, by the end of last year, 553 facilities across the country were able to provide antiretroviral therapy for children – up from 501 in 2017.
Dr. Denis Nansera, a pediatrician at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital in Mbarara District, says, “a good number of mothers used to fall out of antenatal care. But with (medical advancements), we see a huge reduction in the time taken to diagnose a child, and time taken to get child on medication.”
UGANET therefore calls on government and partners to urgently close the testing and treatment gap for children and adolescents living with HIV-AIDS; to establish supportive, stigma-free communities that provide opportunities for testing and care; and to enact improved policies and rights for people living with this survivable epidemic.