Let's make history by eliminating HIV among children

Children lag behind adults in HIV response. [iStockphoto]

Children are the future of society. They deserve to grow up healthy, happy, and free of HIV/AIDS.

Yet, in Kenya, thousands of children are living with or affected by HIV, grappling with stigma, discrimination, health complications and death. This is a tragedy that we cannot accept.

For 23 years, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) has been working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to eliminate AIDS among children in Kenya.

Together, we have reduced the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV from 16.8 per cent in 2013 to 8.6 per cent in 2022, and increased the number of children on antiretroviral therapy (ART) from 32,000 in 2013 to 58,000. We have saved thousands of lives and improved quality of life for many.

However, we still have a long way to go. In 2022, we had 4,500 new pediatric HIV infections, which could have been prevented. There are still about 68,000 children under the age of 15 living with HIV, and only 85 per cent are on ART in Kenya.

Globally, children lag behind adults in HIV response. Only 57 per cent of children living with HIV are on ART, compared to 77 per cent of adults. This means about 660,000 children are missing out on lifesaving treatment.

We cannot afford to lose any more children to AIDS. We have the tools, knowledge and will to end AIDS in children. Kenya is a signatory of the Global Alliance to End Pediatric HIV/AIDS by 2030, a coalition of governments, civil society, UN agencies, and donors committed to ending AIDS in children. In Kenya, we have an even more ambitious goal: to end pediatric AIDS by 2027.

To achieve this, we must work as a team. We need to expand point-of-care testing for children, optimise treatment regimens, using newer and more effective drugs that are easier to administer and have fewer side effects.

We need to harness technology such as telemedicine, to improve decision-making and follow-up for children on ART. We need to invest more in prevention for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for adolescents and young people. We estimate that preventing one HIV infection in a child can save over Sh17.6 million in lifetime costs.

We also need more funding and resources for pediatric HIV programmes. We need to ensure children are not left behind in the allocation of funds and commodities. We need to ring-fence funds specifically for children, to guarantee access to quality and timely HIV care.

Most importantly, we need political will and community engagement. We are grateful for the strong leadership and commitment of President William Ruto’s government, who has pledged to end pediatric AIDS by 2027.

This commitment should be translated into action at all levels, from the national to the county to the community. We need to involve and empower communities, especially mothers, caregivers, and young people, to demand and access quality HIV services for themselves and their children.

We have a historic opportunity to end AIDS in children by 2027 in Kenya. We have a moral obligation to do so. We have a collective responsibility to make it happen. #WakatiNiSasa to End AIDS in Children.

-The writer is Country Director, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation