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HIV/AIDS drugs for children  

Sadly, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has not spared children, claiming the lives of at least four million worldwide since it emerged. According to the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, in 2006, 2.3 million children under 15 years of age were living with HIV. Out of this population, 665,000 children required anti-retroviral treatment (ART), but only one out of 12 children were put on anti-retrovirals (ARVs). However, it is well known that anti-retroviral drugs are essential to people living with HIV/AIDS, because they bolster their immune system and slow down the progress of HIV in their bodies, enabling them to live longer and healthier. It is therefore unfortunate that while many adults living with HIV/AIDS have access to ARVs today, only a small number of children living with HIV/AIDS have access to the same. Consequently, about 40 children are losing their lives to AIDS every hour.

At present, pediatric ARV formulations for children are insufficient. In many parts of the world, especially poor communities, children are given ARVs used for adults. The pills are broken and crushed, and then administered to the children. The main concern with this method is that children may be under- or over-dosed with the ARV drugs.

Communities without resources face several challenges with regard to pediatric treatment. They may not have the capacity and equipments to diagnose HIV in children at an early stage; money with which to procure ARVs for children as they may cost up to four times the cost of drugs for adults; and/or health personnel who are familiar with pediatric treatment and related issues.

Recognizing this major problem and the fact that children have a right to health, some pharmaceutical companies, such as Abbot, intend to start producing pediatric AIDS treatments. This is a welcomed development and such companies need to be encouraged in their efforts, but the drugs must be affordable.

Unfortunately, fear of stigmatization in some communities prevents parents from taking their children for HIV testing. Some parents believe that people might conclude that they too are HIV positive due to irresponsible, immoral or promiscuous behaviors. Parents also fear discrimination due others’ unfounded fear of transmission by association, for either themselves or their children. In general, parents worry that if they or their children are known to have HIV, this would bring shame to their family. This leads to ignorance of a child’s HIV status, which then results in death from childhood illnesses and opportunistic infections which are in fact preventable and treatable, had the child started ARVs at an early age. The older the age of a child’s HIV diagnosis, the less effective is the treatment.  

Concerned individuals and organizations can help by doing any of the following:  

  • Appeal to pharmaceutical companies to generate more pediatric ARVs formulations and make them available at affordable price in low-income countries and communities, so that lives of children who are in need of ARVs should be saved.
  • Ask governments of high-income countries and the donor community to consider increasing funding for pediatric treatment and training of clinicians and caregivers in poor countries. For instance, you may ask the U.S. government to increase funding for PEPFAR, an initiative that, amongst others, is working toward increasing the number of children in HIV/AIDS treatment.
  • Be vigilant and campaign against unacceptably high prices of pediatric formulations that some pharmaceuticals may charge.
  • Consider joining or supporting organizations (e.g. Global AIDS Alliance and Doctors Without Borders) that work to ensure that children living with HIV/AIDS have access to pediatric AIDS treatment.
  • Pressure your government to join the movement to find alternative frameworks for supporting research in medicine that achieve a better balance between intellectual property and public health.  

Campaigns currently underway:  

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