NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 16 – An international human rights organisation on Tuesday warned that about 40,000 children in Kenya in need of antiretroviral treatment (ART) could die in two years for lack of the life saving medication.,
Human Rights Watch accused the government of prioritising adult treatment at the expense of children and added that urgent measures needed to be taken.
“Lack of priority in children could be because there has been a problem with the drugs for children that are a little bit more complicated,” senior researcher on Africa, Juliane Kippenberg said.
Ms Kippenberg also pointed out that data on children under 15 years was not available even in the recently released Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey.
“Another reason might be that the government was assuming it has to keep the middle generation of young adults alive so that they can look after the children. This has made the government leave the particular needs of children aside,” she added.
Ms Kippenberg also said that health workers lacked training in paediatric HIV care and said there was urgent need for child focused HIV policies.
“The main treatment access barriers we found for children living with HIV are health policies that have focused on adults and not on children. Also poverty and food insecurity mean that families don’t take children for testing and treatment because of high transport fees and lack of enough food to give with the medicine,” she said at the launch of a 100-page report, A Question of Life or Death.”
She said that the current food crisis affected children living with HIV directly, since treatment could not be taken without food.
“Many care givers simply don’t give their children the treatment or stop the drugs when the children react to them with nausea, pain or vomiting. There is an urgent need for a strategy that addresses food security in the country,” she said adding that the it should include the needs of those on ART.
Ms Kippenberg suggested that the role of community health workers should also be strengthened through training on child protection issues and their numbers expanded.
The co-ordinator of the Mathare Mothers Development Centre Ann Wanjiru emphasised the need for teachers to be trained and awareness created on how to take care of HIV positive children in school.
“We are really wishing that the government can have curriculums in schools where teachers also would go for training. There should also be a special food programme for children who are on ARV treatment,” she said.
Professor Dorothy Ngacha of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Nairobi said although Kenya had reached the United Nations benchmark of 10 percent coverage for children living with HIV, more still needed to be done.
She pointed out that there was at least 15 percent coverage of the 150,000 children who are HIV positive in the country.