The health of many children with HIV in the United States could improve thanks to a few drugs and effective prevention methods. Unfortunately we cannot say the same for many other children in the rest of the world.
According to Dr. Kimberly Bates, Director of a hospital for children and families with HIV, in Ohio “in the United States, transmission from mother to child has been dramatically reduced, since we have been doing a good job to prevent it. In fact, the probability of a baby to contract HIV from their mother is now less than 1%, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)”.
The AIDS epidemic has had a more severe effect on children around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3.4 million children worldwide had HIV at the end of 2011.
“Drugs are much simpler, and can prevent complications. Although we do not know with certainty, we anticipate that the majority of adolescents with HIV today will live a normal life. If we attend babies with HIV on time, we are sure that they will live a normal life as well”. Said Dr. Bates.
The hardest part for the majority of adolescent is realizing that they’ll need to take medication for the rest of their life. If someone skips a dose of an antidiabetic, blood glucose rises, but it comes down when the individual takes their medication again. In contrast, if someone skips HIV medication, the virus may become resistant and will put at risk the health and life of the individual.
The huge gap is mainly the access to anti-retroviral drugs, which are very expensive. In addition, Dr. Bates said: “every drug has side effects (…) they can cause sleeping problems, diarrhea and abdominal pain”. There is much concern to know how these medications could affect the physical development of children.
So far, a very secure way of preventing new infections in children is to make mothers with HIV take anti-retroviral therapy.
“The ideal situation is that women are aware of their HIV status, so they can plan their pregnancy. In this way, the viral load will reduce.” Commented Dr. Geralyn O’Reilly, specialist in maternal and fetal medicine of Sinai Hospital, in Baltimore.
Depending on how much the viral load of a woman can be reduced, she may be able to give birth vaginally. If the viral load is too high, a c-section is planned, since it will reduce the chances of transmitting the virus.
“Never is too late”, said O’Reilly. “Even if a woman did not receive prenatal care, there are ways in which we can try to stop transmission of HIV”.