Pediatric HIV treatment improves lives of children with virus in Kenya

By Lucia White Grace

Nairobi, May 19 (EFE) .- Four year old Jaden keeps his eyes closed and grips his mother’s arm while she tells Efe how her son’s life has improved since he started taking pediatric HIV medication at a clinic in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest suburbs.

Over 350 children with HIV (the virus that can lead to AIDS if left untreated) or who have been exposed to the virus regularly, attend the Lea Toto (‘to raise the child’ in Swahili) clinic.

Nestled at the end of a dirt road and sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood, the facility is an oasis that offers treatment to children and advice to parents who face stigma and discrimination.

In May 2021, 100,000 batches of dolutegravir (DTG), the first medication designed specifically for children and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended first-line drug, landed in six African countries (Nigeria, Malawi , Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Benin).

Much needed access to pediatric HIV medication in Africa was made possible after the WHO-backed initiative UNITAID brokered an agreement in December 2020 to reduce the price of DGT by 75%.

Until then, although the WHO recommended the use of DTG as the most suitable treatment for children, only minors weighing more than 20 kilos could use it because there was no formula for infants and younger children.

“Before we had a challenge with the children not taking drugs or vomiting after taking them, but that’s not a problem anymore,” Caroline Marete, a doctor at the Lea Toto clinic, told Efe.


Jaden moves around the clinic sporting a yellow bee-shaped backpack where he always carries a tiny plastic cup, so he can take his daily medication.

“When they told me that my son was positive (for HIV), it affected me a lot. For me, being a woman, I don’t care because I can take medication, but giving medication to a child…,” Mariana, who is 36 years old and prefers not to share her last name, says.

When Jaden was diagnosed at nine months he began a treatment which was a combination of dissolvable pills (abacavir-lamivudine or ABC/3TC) and a syrup (lopinavir/ritonavir or LPV/r ) that he took twice a day.

“The old treatment was very bitter,” Mariana explains. “When he gave him the medication, he vomited a lot (…). The boy was sick all the time and was losing a lot of weight. When we came here to do the tests, we realized that the viral load was very high.”

In both syrup and tablet form, LPV/r causes vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes diarrhea which made it very difficult to ensure that Jaden was taking the correct dose.


When HIV sufferers do not ingest adequate doses of medication, the risk of developing a resistance increases.

“When they receive suboptimal doses in the blood, the virus gets used to it and can develop mutations. Over time, the drug will not work, the virus will develop resistance and the viral load will rise,” Marete adds.

The new pediatric version of DGT can be dissolved easily, has a sweet strawberry flavor and is administered in a single daily dose of 10 milligrams.

But despite improvements with treatments, patients continue to face social stigma, discrimination and are at a heightened risk of poverty.

In recent years, improvements, especially for pregnant women living with HIV, have meant the number of children with the virus in Kenya have dropped from 180,000 in 2010 to 111,500 in 2020, according to Unicef.

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