Two-Thirds of HIV-Positive Kenyan Children Do Not Have Access to Antiretroviral Treatment, Report Says
Although the Kenyan government runs a program to provide no-cost antiretroviral medication, about two-thirds of HIV-positive children in Kenya lack access to the drugs, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, Kenya's Daily Nation reports. According to the report, titled "A Question of Life or Death: Treatment Access for Children Living With HIV in Kenya," about 25,000 HIV-positive children in Kenya have access to antiretroviral medication but about 50,000 children under the country's HIV/AIDS care program lack treatment access. The report also states that 40,000 children likely will die in the next two years if they do not receive antiretroviral treatment. About half of all HIV-positive infants who do not receive treatment will die before reaching age two, the report said.
According to the report, many local health facilities do not test children for HIV or offer tham antiretroviral treatment. In addition, some medical staff "are often not trained to deal with HIV in children and there are too few community health workers to help children gain access to testing and treatment," the report said. Juliane Kippenberg, a senior researcher on Africa in HRW's Children's Rights Division, said that the Kenyan government has focused on providing treatment to adults living with HIV. Dorothy Ngacha, associate professor in the pediatric department of University of Nairobi's School of Medicine, added that another "barrier" to antiretroviral treatment access for children is a "lack of knowledge" about HIV status. Ngacha said there are "no concrete statistics" on the number of HIV-positive children in Kenya, only "mere estimates." According to Ngacha, the Kenya National AIDS/STD Control Program estimates that at least 60,000 children in Kenya need antiretroviral treatment. However, this number could be "considerably higher" when accounting for government guidelines that require all HIV-positive infants to receive treatment, the Daily Nation reports.
Kippenberg said that Kenya has taken a "step in the right direction" by expanding infant testing, "but the government needs to do much more to help children overcome treatment access barriers." According to Ngacha, Kenya's Ministry of Health Care and Medical Services plans to decentralize HIV/AIDS services to dispensary levels to allow more children to access treatment (Kumba/Mathenge, Daily Nation, 12/17). Ben Rawlence, HRW spokesperson, said cost should not be a factor in improving treatment access because antiretrovirals are "not that expensive." According to Rawlence, HIV/AIDS treatments "already exist" in Kenya, but the government must distribute the drugs, increase availability for children, train health workers and ensure that children attend clinics and follow-up appointments to guarantee treatment adherence. He added that partners such as the World Health Organization and the Clinton Foundation already provide support for HIV testing and treatment for Kenyan children (Lesser, VOA News, 12/17).
The report is available online.
Audio of the VOA News report is available online.