New strawberry flavoured paediatric antiretrovirals (ARVs), due to arrive in South Africa shortly, will address a key barrier in the successful treatment of HIV positive children.
The ARVs currently being used for young children have a very unpleasant taste, so much so that some children either spit or vomit the medicine out. This makes it difficult for them to take their life-saving medicine.
By making it easier to take their treatment, the new medicines which were recently registered by the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), will drastically improve the health outcomes of children living with HIV.
Dr Leon Levin, senior paediatric advisor at health NGO Right to Care who has been treating children with HIV for over 25 years, explains, “Children respond very well to antiretroviral therapy (ART), but we need them to take it. These improved paediatric formulations are going to make a major difference. They are very effective and taste great. We will be able to better control HIV in children and enable them to live normal, long, healthy lives. This is very good news for all HIV-positive children.”
One of the new ARVs for young children is a Dolutegravir dispersible tablet. It is the same medicine that HIV positive adults have been using in South Africa since 2019, but in a special dispersible formulation for young children. The other, known as the ‘four-in-one’, contains four ARVs that have been used in young children for some time, only with a far better taste. Both treatments are effective, safe and well tolerated.
According to Dr Julia Turner, senior technical advisor at Right to Care, “No child should die or become sick from HIV ever again. Children on ARVs can look forward to living as long and healthily as those who don’t have HIV. Another benefit is that by taking their medication and controlling the disease, they will not pass on HIV to their partners and children when they grow up. HIV is now a very easily managed disease.”
Doctors Turner and Levin appeal to all parents and caregivers to make sure that their HIV-positive child is on the best medication and to check with their healthcare worker if their child’s HIV is well controlled. This is assessed by testing the HIV viral load. Dr Levin explains that, “Controlled HIV occurs when the viral load of the patient is suppressed or undetectable. If the child’s viral load is not suppressed, parents should ask their healthcare workers to do something about it. This may include starting the child on one of the new formulations as soon as they become available.”
Children with HIV who are treated early will live as long as anybody else, but they need to be diagnosed and put onto treatment as early as possible. “Testing is therefore critical,” says Dr Turner. “Take your child for an HIV test at your closest health facility if there is any slight possibility of the child having HIV. It is far better to know early and get your child onto treatment as soon as possible.”