At the 16th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) Dr Tammy Meyers presented data from a large cohort of children on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) at Harriet Shezi Children's Clinic in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, South Africa.(1) Of 2,102 chidren initiated on HAART over a four year period (April 2004 – March 2008), 1734 (82%) are alive and in the programme. Most of these children started HAART with severely compromised immune systems. Based on studies of untreated children at this stage of HIV disease(2)(3), it is fair to say that nearly all would have been dead had they not been placed on HAART. By the end of the study, half the children had been on HAART for at least 17 months.
Analysis shows that more than 90% of the cohort had less than 400 copies of HIV per millilitre of blood after 18 months on the programme1, indicating that treatment was effective. On average, CD4 percentage rose from 11% to over 25% (in children CD4 percentage, rather than CD4 count is used because it is more stable). HIV-positive children on average weigh less and are shorter than HIV-negative children of the same age. The children in the cohort showed remarkable improvements in both these measures.
*Please note that the young girl pictured in the photos above is not enrolled on Harriet Shezi's treatment programme; she is enrolled on ART through a similar programme at a rural Eastern Cape health facility. The photo on the left was taken shortly before she started ART, the photo on the right is of the same girl six months after having been initiated onto antiretroviral treatment. Hers is one of the thousands of paediatric ART success stories in South Africa.