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Providing better HIV/AIDS treatment for children in Mozambique

More than 9 out of every 10 children who are newly infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mozambique hasn’t been as badly affected by the HIV endemic in sub-Saharan Africa as some other countries, with 11.5% of the adult population (15-54 years) living with the disease (UNAIDS, 2009) and an estimated 130,000 new infections each year. Among young people, around 9% of women aged 15-24 and 3% of young men are infected. However, health officials have recently reported that 15% of pregnant women aged 15-49 are testing positive.

The government has been working to extend anti-retroviral treatment programmes and improve testing. For example, diagnosing infection among children is particularly important. Speaking to the Guardian, Mozambique’s director of the national institute for health said that half of untreated children were dying of the disease before the age of two. 

To improve diagnosis for children under 18 months, new equipment funded through Unitaid is enabling speedier and more accurate tests. A child’s HIV status has historically been assessed with a dry blood spot test where results could take up to two months from one of the four labs in Mozambique. With the new equipment, a blood sample taken from the finger tip can be analysed and provide results in just over an hour.

The new test allows for a more accurate testing of babies. Old methods for determining HIV/AIDS infection were based on checking for antibodies. But newborns can have these in their system from their mother, so it’s not possible to make a positive diagnosis from this. Instead, the new machines provide results on the viral load or level of HIV virus in the blood. This can confirm if a baby is HIV positive. (Early confirmation may be even more important in the future, since the latest research from America suggests rapid treatment of HIV-positive newborns with anti-retrovirals may enable some children to become free of the virus.)

Mozambique has progressed a long way in expanding the testing of expectant mothers. In 2005, just 12% of pregnant women were tested. By 2010, this had risen to nearly 90%. And around 85% of antenatal clinics now offer prevention services to help the country meet its national goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of the disease by 2015.

But much work still has to be done, particularly in extending the coverage of treatment to children. In 2010, only 42% of children needing anti-retrovirals were receiving them.