By Sharon Atieno
Though strides have been made in HIV/AIDS, paediatric HIV remains a cause for concern as testing and access to treatment remains low.
These sentiments were shared by experts during the fourth Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) conference.
The UNAIDS set a 90-90-90 target to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV are identified, 90% of them are put on treatment and 90% of those on treatment are virally suppressed, however, Dr. Catherine Ngugi, head of NASCOP notes that Kenya is still lagging behind in meeting this target for children below 0-14 years.
She adds that in a country where 106, 807 paediatrics are living with HIV, only 69.4% have been identified, 77% of them have been put on treatment and 85.5% have been virally suppressed.
“Children and adolescents are disproportionately affected due to unfavourable treatment formulations which are intolerable to them meaning that some children medications are bitter to swallow and some are difficult for caregivers to administer,” Dr.Ngugi said.
Dr. Irene Mukui, Medical Affairs leader, Drugs for Neglected Disease (DNDi) Africa Regional Office noted that though 90% of infections occur through mother to child transmission, only 6 out 10 HIV exposed babies get tested for HIV in the first two months of life, thus lowering their survival.
“Without diagnosis and treatment, 50% of HIV-infected infants will die by their second birthday,” she said.
Dr. Mukui notes that though there is improvement in the treatment coverage of paediatric HIV in East and Southern Africa, which bears the biggest burden of 1.4 million children living with HIV, it is still low at 52% in 2018.
She mentions that West and Central Africa is performing dismally with only 28% of children living with HIV receiving treatment despite having a smaller burden (540,000) compared to East and Southern Africa.
With paediatric HIV treatment being more expensive than that of adults, both experts agree that there is need to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV, which occurs during birth or while breastfeeding in order to curb new infections among children.