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How innovations for rapid testing increases children’s access to HIV treatment

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As more children risk contacting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) through their mothers, experts have suggested rapid testing innovation and child-friendly medicines for treatment to save their lives.

According to statistics, nearly 450 infants acquired HIV every day, most of which were during childbirth, thereby subjecting the children at extremely high risk of dying in the first two years of life, as so many of them are never diagnosed or treated.

While experts state that inadequate HIV testing and treatment for children is a widespread challenge, the 2019 global treatment rate for HIV positive mothers stood at 82 percent, while only 54 percent of children living with HIV are diagnosed and access life-saving drugs

Further estimate revealed that just 59 percent of babies born to mothers living with HIV are tested for HIV within the first two months of life.

This gap in coverage, according to experts, is often because the diagnostic processes tend to be more complicated and cumbersome for children, as infants require a special type of testing for HIV (virological), which is not readily available in most low- and middle-income countries.

According to the experts, 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.

Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Uganda’s Ministry of Health enacted HIV treatment reforms for children to great success.

The move, which was with the help of partners and innovative diagnostic tools, saw 553 facilities across the country that were able to provide antiretroviral therapy for children up from 501 in 2017.

According to analysis of a Paediatrician, Dr. Denis Nansera, who examined a mother and her two daughters, aged 1 and 4 years, at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital in Mbarara District, Western Region, Uganda, “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.”

Although, UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Health of Uganda and the Clinton Health Access Initiative has implemented Point of Care Early Infant Diagnostic (POC EID) testing. This rapid testing process uses devices that are easy to transport, operate and maintain, allowing more health centres to diagnose infants. With early diagnosis, infants can immediately start anti-retroviral therapy.

A laboratory technician at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, Enoch Turyatemba, said: “Before the Point of Care [POC] machines, we collected dry blood samples and had to send them away. The turn-around time was sometimes months, but with a POC machine, HIV-positive children can start treatment the next day. We are saving lives.”


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