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Kenyan Children Cited As Needing Greater Access to Antiretroviral Drugs

A new report on medical treatment for children living with HIV says that about two-thirds of ailing Kenyan youth are not getting access to the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment they urgently need. A 100-page report by Human Rights Watch says about 40-thousand Kenyan youth could die in the next two years if they don’t receive the drugs, which are freely provided by the government but are currently only reaching another 20-thousand Kenyan children. Human Rights Watch spokesman Ben Rawlence says there are not enough community health workers to help children gain access to testing and treatment.

“It’s primarily the Kenyan government – it’s primarily the primary care centers, it’s the clinics, it’s the district hospitals. And to the extent that they need assistance with that, they should be requesting that from donors. The WHO and donors are involved. They are providing partnership, but it’s up to the Kenyan government really to take the lead and say what its citizens need,” he said.

The Human Rights Watch report points out that antiretroviral drugs are free in Kenya. But it says the Nairobi government’s HIV treatment program has failed to get the lifesaving drugs to children born with HIV and it notes that half of them will die before their second birthdays if they go untreated. A recent expansion of infant testing has started to change that, but the report notes that the government needs to do more to reverse child access barriers. Rawlence says it is not an issue of cost.

“The message from everyone is pretty much unanimous. The drugs should be available. They’re not that expensive. It’s just a question of getting them to the right places and providing the staff with the relevant training and the relevant equipment,” he noted.

In addition to the World Health Organization, Rawlence says that other global institutions and donor organizations are making provisions and testing materials readily available to eastern and southern African nations, which have experienced the highest number of child deaths worldwide due to HIV. He says Kenyan officials need to foster greater efforts to build a partnership with the providers, making use of both parental and government safeguards to ensure that the children are properly cared for.

“The Clinton Foundation is already involved in Kenya. They’ve been supporting this new test for infants as well as some targeted survivors of retroviruses. That’s something that they could pursue further. But it’s not really the kind of drugs that needs to be different. It’s the same drug. It’s the ARVs that they already have. It’s administering them in lesser quantities, according to weight. So the challenge already exists. The drugs already exist. It’s just making sure that the Kenyan government is giving the relevant training, supplying them, making them available to the children, making sure those children come to the clinics and they show up for their follow-up appointments so that somebody’s actually looking after them,” he said.