Announcing the changed guidelines in Pretoria at the main event marking World AIDS Day, President Jacob Zuma said: ‘This decision will contribute significantly towards the reduction of infant mortality’.
‘All children under one year of age will get treatment if they test HIV-positive. Initiating treatment, will, therefore not be determined by the level of CD cells’, he said.
The new guidelines will be effective as from April next year.
Up until now government’s policy has been to enrol people, including children, on to treatment when their CD 4 count reaches 200 or is lower, by which stage some are already ill and have severely compromised immune systems.
The revised guidelines will benefit many children to live even healthier lives. Take Thabo, for instance. Like all healthy children his age, he is a bouncy, cuddly and healthy baby who chuckles a lot and loves playing.
Little Thabo tested HIV-positive late last year.
‘He was three weeks old when he started getting sick. He was then admitted to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital because he was vomiting and had diarrhoea. Doctors tested him for HIV and he tested positive’, says his mother, Neo.
‘My baby was always sick. He presented with different symptoms every day. He had no appetite. He was never this big’, she continues.
But with antiretroviral therapy, Thabo’s health has improved.
Dr Lee Fairlie, a paediatrician at the Enhancing Children’s HIV Outcomes (ECHO) clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, welcomed the revised guidelines, saying they will go a long way in protecting babies.
‘Our main concern is that the HIV really damages children’s organs, particularly the brain. We are extremely excited about Jacob Zuma’s announcement, because the sooner we start treatment, the more children’s brains we protect and all the other systems’, she says optimistically.
‘We are going to create a healthy generation of children, rather than a generation of children that are going to have endless problems later on’, she adds.
This story was covered in collaboration with Panos, a network of institutes fostering development.