EGPAF Urges Capitol Hill to Take Action to End Pediatric AIDS
On May 15, experts from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) joined UNAIDS, UNICEF, the Children’s AIDS Fund, and the Institute for Youth Development to host a Capitol Hill briefing on the urgent need to prioritize treatment initiatives for children living with HIV around the world.
The timing of the briefing, co-hosted by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), was serendipitous. Just a day earlier on May 14, Sen. Coons’ World AIDS Day Resolution, co-sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), was passed by the U.S. Senate. The resolution asks for “rapid action towards” implementing the Global Plan on prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, as well as expanded access to treatment for children living with HIV.
Speakers at the briefing included U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D., EGPAF Ambassador Martha Cameron, and EGPAF President and CEO Charles Lyons. Panelists discussed the critical gaps in treatment of HIV-positive children and the pressing need to develop improved access and care for these children. Currently, only 647,000 of the 3.3 million children living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy. Without medication, half of all children living with HIV will die by their second birthday, and 80 percent will die before age 5.
Craig McClure, chief of HIV/AIDS programme division for UNICEF, noted that while the global disparity between children and adults on treatment is worrisome --only 34 percent of children have access to treatment compared to 64 percent of adults--some countries have been able to close that gap. For instance, in Botswana more than 95 percent of children and adults have access to treatment. Amb. Birx echoed that point, noting that even in countries where there is 90 percent coverage through PMTCT programs pediatric treatment rates are still low.
“We need senior leadership saying this is serious,” Birx said at the event.
David Jamieson of the Supply Chain Management System, Elizabeth Chester from AMPATH, and Amb. Birx each emphasized the need to develop easier ways for children to take HIV medicines. Research and development for pediatric AIDS medications, such as syrups that don’t have a bitter taste and “fixed dose combinations” that only require patients to take one or two pills a day (compared to the typical daily regimen of eight pills or more) will be critical to reaching more children with treatment.
We have the tools to reach these children now but we can improve upon those tools through targeted programming, and improved medicines. We cannot continue to let children be lost to this disease. At EGPAF, we are committed to our work – Until no child has AIDS
Katie Coester is EGPAF’s senior public policy officer, based in Washington, D.C.