More than a quarter of a
million children each year are born infected with the virus that causes Aids,
but too few are being tested early to receive treatment and prolong their
lives, the United Nations said.
Michele Sidibe, executive
director of UNAIDS, called for diagnostic kits to be improved for detection in
babies of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes Aids, and for
their "still high" current price of R254 - R508 to be brought down.
Children are the
"forgotten" victims of the Aids epidemic, yet 260 000 babies joined
their ranks last year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, he said.
"Irrespective of the
market size we need to make sure that diagnostics are made available for
children," he told a news conference in Geneva ahead of World Aids Day on
"We made a lot of
progress during the last 2 - 3 years in terms of treatment, in terms of medicines,
in terms of making sure that the molecules are more well-targeted for children.
But where we are failing is also making early diagnostics."
US based Abbott
Laboratories and Swiss drugmaker Roche are among the main manufacturers of HIV
diagnostics, according to senior UNAIDS officials.
Some 3.3 million children
under age 15 have HIV, but only 1.9 million of them require treatment today,
according to the Geneva-based agency. Fewer than 650 000 or 34% of the 1.9
million received antiretroviral Aids drugs in 2012, still a rise of 14% from
the year before, it said.
Some 14 million adults with
HIV need treatment, and 9 million of them or 64% are receiving it, a far higher
coverage rate than for children.
UNAIDS has identified 22
priority countries for stopping infections in children, 21 of them in sub-Saharan
Africa, home to 90% of women living with HIV. The other is India.
In three of these priority
countries Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi – fewer than 5% of
infants at risk are being tested for HIV at birth, UNAIDS says.
countries, only 3 in 10 children receive HIV treatment. We have seen tremendous
political commitment and results to reduce mother-to-child transmission but we
are failing the children who become infected," said Sidibe, who is from Mali.
All children under five who
test positive for the virus should be put on treatment, according to Mahesh
Mahalingam, UNAIDS director for its global plan for stopping new infections in
Current PCR tests are able
to detect the virus in a baby only after the age of six weeks and require
sending a blood sample to a specialised laboratory, he said.
"What we looking for
are easier tests that we can administer earlier on, this will help detect the
virus and start them on medicines faster. We recommend that as soon as the
child is known to be HIV positive, you start on antiretroviral drugs,"
Mahalingam told Reuters.
He added: "The earlier
we can diagnose, the earlier we can treat them which increase chances of child
survival. Children are now getting to grow into adults. If we start pretty
early they have the same chance of living as any other children."