HIV accounts for 1.5% of all deaths in infants younger than 12 months of age and 4.9% of deaths in 1- to 4-year-old children. Close to 13,000 infants are born with HIV annually in Kenya. Kenya is among the 22 countries that account for 90% of all pregnant women living with HIV.
Kenya has subscribed to the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV Infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive, which seeks to reduce Mother-to-Child Transmission (MTCT) to below 5% by 2015 and prevent mothers from dying.
For these goals to be realized, more than 90% of HIV infected women need to be identified through screening and receive anti-retroviral drugs and other interventions for the prevention of MTCT. MTCT can occur during pregnancy, labor, and delivery or post-natal through breastfeeding. The risk of MTCT can be reduced to less than 5% using comprehensive prevention of MTCT strategy.
Women living with HIV are advised to take HIV treatment during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding, and for the rest of their lives, to reduce the risk of HIV being passed on to their baby. Once the baby is born, they will also need to take HIV drug in the form of syrup for a few weeks to help prevent HIV infection. The baby will be tested for HIV after this point, and if the result is negative they can stop taking the syrup. If the result is positive they will need to start taking treatment too.
Treatment for HIV is not a cure, but it can keep HIV under control and prevent a child from becoming ill from HIV. Without treatment, HIV damage the child’s immune system, and this puts them at risk of serious illnesses. For babies and young children, untreated HIV is very serious.
Once your child has started HIV treatment, it is important that they take it every day. For babies and young children, some HIV drugs are available as liquids or syrups. However, not all HIV drugs for children are available in this form, and some may not be available where you live. The dose of the drug, how much you give your child, will be explained by a healthcare professional. The dosages will change as your child gets older and heavier.
Sometimes it becomes hard for kids to be taking these medications especially when it becomes hard for them to swallow it and maybe they don’t like the taste of the liquid drug this does not happen to kids only but also to adults. Seeing the medicine as a normal part of your child’s daily routine can help you and your child. In case you are also taking the medicine, it’s much better if you take it the same time with your child, it helps them accept it.
Some drugs might have some side effects, as a parent keep an eye on the side effects and always look out for them. In case you notice any side effects contact your health professional about it.
In case you notice that the treatment isn’t working, you are advised to visit the health facility for more test on the child. Your child’s healthcare professional will monitor your child’s viral load (level of HIV) and CD4 count (strength of immune system), as well as their general health and development, to check why the treatment isn’t working. But then again if your child is having problems taking the treatment, or if you have been forgetting to give them their treatment, then you may be able to resolve these problems and stay on the same treatment.
If the treatment is not working, then it can be changed. You can discuss with your child’s healthcare professional what the next best treatment option would be for your child. Kenya launched a plan for elimination of MTCT which involved the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 4 pronged strategy that includes;
1) Providing HIV prevention services for women of reproductive age with reproductive health services.
2) Opt-out HIV testing during pregnancy and, for HIV-infected pregnant women, access to antiretroviral prophylaxis during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period, safe delivery methods, anti-retroviral prophylaxis for infants during breastfeeding, and promotion of exclusive, rather than mixed, breastfeeding.
3) Provision of contraceptives to women living with HIV for family planning.
4) Provision of treatment, care, and support for women and children living with HIV infection and their families.
Although screening has improved over the past 5 years, fewer than three-quarters of infected pregnant women are receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis. Universal antiretroviral therapy for HIV-infected pregnant women will be essential in achieving Kenyan’s target to eliminate mother-to-child transmission to less than 5% by 2015.
Photo Courtesy: Tommy Trenchard/save the children