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ARV medication for children Credits: Hough/Caritas

ARV medication for children Credits: Hough/Caritas

Caritas Internationalis and its HAART for Children campaign is playing a key role in the UNAIDS “Global Plan Towards The Elimination Of New HIV Infections Among Children By 2015 And Keeping Their Mothers Alive”.

HAART is an acronym for “High Active Anti-Retroviral Treatment”. In 2009, Caritas Internationalis launched its “HAART for Children Campaign” in order to promote greater access to pediatric HIV and TB testing and treatment and scale-up programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV”.

At that time, 800 children were dying every day of AIDS related diseases. Their deaths were preventable. They were caused because the children had no access to early diagnosis of HIV or to child-friendly medicines to treat this deadly virus.

Approximately 90 percent of these children were infected in the womb, at birth, or through breastfeeding. Their HIV-positive mothers had no access to simple and inexpensive treatment that could prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies.

Important progress has taken place since Caritas launched its campaign. However, much more remains to be done.

More children are diagnosed with HIV earlier, but their test results might not be picked up or they might not be enrolled in treatment. Other children still face obstacles in timely initiation of standard antiretroviral therapy (ART).

A fairly wide range of choices are available to treat adult HIV infections, but only a few medicines have been adapted for use with children. Among those, only a very few are available in “fixed dose combinations” in order to reduce the number of pills to be taken by the child each day and to eliminate the need for mothers to cut up pills, which causes a risk of under- or over-dosing the child.

In many African countries, AIDS contributes significantly to the number of children who die before they reach their fifth birthday.. Also, AIDS-related illnesses are among the leading causes of death among women throughout the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 9 percent of maternal mortality is due to HIV and AIDS.

UNAIDS and PEPFAR (a U.S. government global health programme) launched ‘The Global Plan Towards The Elimination Of New HIV Infections Among Children By 2015 And Keeping Their Mothers Alive’ at the June 2011 UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.

The plan calls for the “elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015” by aiming to ensure that less than 5 percent of children born to women living with HIV become HIV-positive themselves. When compared to the situation in 2009, this will lead to a 90 percent reduction of new HIV infections among infants. It focuses on outreach to pregnant women living with HIV and their children, mainly in the 22 countries most affected by the disease.

During the next three months, country assessments will take place in these countries. The national assessments will aim to establish the current status of programmes to end mother-to-child (vertical) transmission and reduce maternal mortality among women living with HIV. National plans and guidelines will be revised to ensure the successful implementation of the plan.

In recognition of the important work of civil society and of the key long-term role played by Caritas Internationalis in the global response to AIDS, Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo of Caritas Internationalis has been appointed to serve as representative of civil society organisations on the Global Steering Group (GSG). He shares that distinction with Beri Hull of International Community of Women with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and Mitch Besser of mothers2mothers (m2m). The GSG will monitor implementation and progress.

A first step taken by these civil society representatives has been to launch a survey, to learn how the civil society already is engaged in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission and to know how it wishes to promote the ‘Global Plan’.

To learn more about this plan to save the lives of mothers and children, follow this link (PDF).