‘High Percentage’ of Infants Born With HIV Show Signs of Mental Illness, Behavioral Problems as They Age
A "high percentage" of teenagers who were born HIV-positive suffer from mental illness and severe behavioral problems, according to two Harlem pediatricians, the New York Times reports. These teenagers need specialized services that combine both medical and mental health treatment, Drs. Elaine Abrams and Stephen Nicholas write in the cover story of last month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health. "As pediatricians, we knew there was a subset of children with HIV who had behavioral problems, but then we noticed that these big-time behavioral problems were more severe than we had thought. But mental health services are what is least available for anybody who is dealing with the combination of being chronically ill and mentally ill," Nicholas said. Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, studies have indicated that some teenagers born with HIV have neurological, developmental, cognitive and linguistic problems, although the percentage of affected teenagers is unknown. The "greatest concern" is for teenagers who were born HIV-positive and to women who used drugs while pregnant, thus "worsen[ing]" any mental health or behavioral problems in the children, Nicholas and Abrams state. The authors also discuss the "small but increasing" number of adoptive parents of HIV-positive children who are rejecting the teenagers once they begin to have "very complex [behavioral] issues." The National Institute of Mental Health and the Office of Rare Diseases in September co-sponsored a conference to bring attention to and encourage research on pediatric HIV and mental health issues. Although the conference was disrupted by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the conference organizers aim to create a pediatric AIDS and mental health initiative by next year (Villarosa, New York Times, 3/5). The article is available online.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.