UNITAID welcomes the good news this World AIDS Day that the number of children newly infected with HIV continues to decline but urges the international community to step up efforts for those children already living with the disease.
“About 3.3 million children are living with HIV today,” says Dr. Philippe Douste-Blazy, chairman of the UNITAID executive board. “The international community must commit to providing them with the best treatment, and avoid childhood HIV becoming a neglected disease.”
UNITAID addresses childhood HIV by ensuring that as many children as possible living with HIV in poor countries get access to the best treatments at affordable prices.
Children are rarely born with HIV in wealthy countries because mothers living with HIV are treated during pregnancy to ensure that their babies are born HIV-free. It is very different elsewhere: there were 300,000 new infections in children in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, the majority infected in the womb. Nevertheless, programs to stop mother-to-child transmission of the disease in Africa are working – between 2009 and 2011 antiretroviral prophylaxis prevented 409,000 children from acquiring HIV infection in low- and middle-income countries, according to UNAIDS.
“We salute the progress that has been made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” says Dr. Denis Broun, executive director of UNITAID. “Yet new data released this World AIDS Day shows that only 28 percent of children that require life-saving treatment are actually receiving it, compared to over 50 percent of adults in low-and middle-income countries.”
Since its creation in 2006, UNITAID has been addressing pediatric HIV by creating the market for quality child-friendly antiretroviral treatments as previously there was no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in child-friendly antiretrovirals and none existed. Before UNITAID, most HIV treatments available for children in low-income countries were syrups designed for adults with up to 18 foul-tasting doses a day.
UNITAID’s long-term funding gave suppliers the incentive to manufacture child-friendly formulations that are easy-to-take with a number of drugs combined in the same pill. Several generic suppliers were encouraged to enter the market, allowing for more competition and lower prices. Thanks to this market intervention, even those countries that don’t receive direct UNITAID support can benefit from lower prices and increased availability of better products.
“Now is the time to follow up on our work with pediatric HIV,” adds Douste-Blazy. “Despite the financial crisis, we call on the international community to step up focus for these kids in need at a time when they may be considering otherwise.”