Saturday, July 13, 2024

Zambia’s Pediatric HIV program is still lagging-MoH

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By Dennis Chibuye

The Ministry of Health says the pediatric HIV program in Zambia is still lagging compared to the adult HIV program.

Ministry of Health Pediatric HIV Advisor Dr. Chimika Phiri said that based on the program data, as of the end of 2023, the program had managed to put about 41,256 on treatment out of the estimated 62,232 children living with HIV in Zambia.

Dr Phiri revealed this during the Pediatric HIV Indaba held at Mulungushi International Conference Center in Lusaka recently.

Dr. Phiri said according to statistics, there was still about 33% treatment gap for the children.

He said this calls for intensified efforts to find these remaining children and put them on treatment.

Dr. Phiri also stated that the viral suppression rate among the children who have been put on ART is lower than for the adults.

“Our intention is that once we put a child on anti-retroviral therapy, the health and welfare of a child should improve and this can only happen when the population of the virus is suppressed, we expect the health of a child to improve’’ said Dr. Phiri.

Dr. Phiri said the Pediatric HIV Indaba has brought together key stakeholders to discuss the pediatric HIV and the Prevention of Mother to Child (PMTCT) transmission programs.

Dr Phiri explained that the lagging behind of the Pediatric HIV program when compared to the Adult Programme was not unique to Zambia, but that similar picture has been noted in the region and beyond.

“To improve the pediatric HIV program in Zambia, we thought of bringing various stakeholders to brainstorm on what is it that we are missing or not doing well in the pediatric HIV program and propose possible solutions in addressing the identified challenges,” Dr Phiri told delegates.

He said the desire for the program is to ensure at least 95% of Children living with HIV know their status, 95% of the identified children are put on ART and 95% of those on ART achieve viral load suppression.

He added that for children to achieve viral suppression, certain things have to be followed.

“As a program we appreciate that most of the children depend on caregivers for them to take HIV medication. However, if the medications are not given in the correct amounts, correct time and consistently, chances of the child achieving viral load suppression are reduced,” he said.

“There is need to thoroughly interrogate factors that contribute to the program lag behind. There is need to address the issues such as ART adherence among children living with HIV for those on ART. The community needs to see the need for the children to know their HIV status.”

Dr Phiri also added that as a Zambia, strides have been made to improve the Paediatric HIV program.

“For example, to address some of the factors that affect ART adherence, in the past, some of the ARV formulations for children we had were not well tolerated because of the taste. children could not palate them well, but we have moved as a country, since 2021, we introduced the Paediatric DTG which is a very good ARV drug and well-tolerated by Children.”

He added, “Our expectation is that many children be able to achieve viral load suppression. Already we are seeing gradual improvement but not at the rate we desire.”

“Some measures have been put in place to improve this picture, For example, the Ministry has placed Point of Care platform for early infant Diagnosis and testing of viral load for Children and Pregnant women. This will improve the turnaround time for the test results. This will improve the testing coverage as well,” he stated.

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