|© UNICEF Radio/2008|
|Director of Clinical Operations and Senior Advisor in Pediatrics for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative Dr. Shaffiq Essajee (left) and former correspondent for Public Radio International Amy Costello recording a podcast on early infant diagnosis of HIV.|
This is the second of two podcasts produced by UNICEF on the topic ‘Children and AIDS’. The first podcast, Supporting and Protecting Mothers Living with HIV, discusses the importance of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
NEW YORK, USA, 1 December 2008 – In 2007, around 1.5 million children were born to mothers living with HIV. In many countries, diagnosis and treatment services for these infants are lagging behind adult services, even though children under the age of one are among those most vulnerable to HIV infection.
The jointly-prepared 'Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report', which was released on World AIDS Day – 1 December – recommends testing infants for HIV as young as six-weeks-old.
The stocktaking report cites the study, 'Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy' which demonstrated a 76 per cent reduction in mortality when treatment was initiated within the first 12-weeks of life. Yet, in 2007, less than 10 per cent of infants born to mothers living with HIV were tested before they were two-months-old.
Advancing the conversation
A new podcast discussion, hosted by UNICEF to advance the conversation on early infant diagnosis features three panelists: Dr. Shaffiq Essajee, Director of Clinical Operations and Senior Advisor in Pediatrics for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative; Mathakane Metsing, a mother living with HIV who counsels other mothers in Lesotho; and Felix Masi, a Nairobi-based photojournalist and Director of Voiceless Children in Kenya.
The panellists discuss barriers developing countries face in testing infants for HIV, efforts to scale up testing services and ways to ensure that children who test positive receive treatment.
The discussions were recorded at the UN Radio studios in New York and distributed online and through UNICEF Radio podcasts. The series is hosted by Amy Costello, a former correspondent for Public Radio International. Ms. Costello is also the moderator of UNICEF’s ‘Beyond School Books’ podcast series on education in emergencies.
Barriers to early infant diagnosis
During the discussion, Dr. Essajee emphasized the importance of early infant diagnosis based on his own experience working with the Clinton Foundation and establishing Kenya’s first free clinic dedicated to paediatric HIV research and care. He stated that there is a “need to make a diagnosis as early as you can in an infant and then act upon that diagnosis in order to initiate treatment as a rapidly as possible.”
However, women and families face many challenges in testing their infants, including stigma, cost and the process of testing itself.
“For a woman who lives on less than a dollar a day, going to the clinic is not a priority. The priority is how to get food to feed her children and herself,” said Masi, commenting on the situation in the slums of Nairobi and rural parts of Kenya.
'I have to protect my child'
All three guests discussed the importance of coupling early infant diagnosis with the ability to treat infants who test positive for HIV.
“Whilst we know that early infant diagnosis is very important and that infant mortality is extremely high in children that are HIV-infected,” explained Dr. Essajee, “access to that treatment remains a problem in many situations – especially for rural communities.”
Ms. Metsing waited two months for her baby’s test results to come back from the laboratory in South Africa. “It was a stressful thing,” she said, describing the wait.
Asked how she overcame the barriers to child testing, she said, “I told myself that I have to protect my child – no matter what.”
Amy Costello hosts a conversation on early infant HIV diagnosis with Dr. Shaffiq Essajee, Mathakane Metsing and Felix Masi.
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