‘Delicious’ strawberry-flavoured ARVs offer new hope for HIV-positive children in SA

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  • A new ARV set to arrive in SA will address an important barrier to successful HIV treatment in children.
  • While ARVs for children are available, they have an unpleasant taste that causes them to spit or vomit it out.
  • Two doctors at NGO Right to Care urge all parents and caregivers to ensure their HIV-positive children are on the best medications.

New strawberry-flavoured paediatric antiretrovirals (ARVs) are set to arrive in South Africa, and they will address a key barrier to the successful treatment of HIV-positive children.

The ARVs currently used for young children have a very unpleasant taste. In many instances, children either spit or vomit the medicine out, says NGO Right to Care. This makes it difficult for them to take their life-saving medicine. 

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By making it easier to take their treatment, the new medicines, which were recently registered by the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), will drastically improve the health outcomes of children living with HIV.

'We need them to take it'

Around 238 000 children (younger than 15) were living with HIV in South Africa in 2021, Spotlight reported in July.

Dr Leon Levin, senior paediatric advisor at Right to Care, has been treating children with HIV for over 25 years. She explains that children respond very well to antiretroviral therapy (ART) but that they need to take it. Fortunately, these improved paediatric formulations are going to make a major difference. Levin adds:

They are very effective and taste great. We will be able to better control HIV in children and enable them to live normal, long, healthy lives. This is very good news for all HIV-positive children.

One of the new ARVs for young children is a Dolutegravir dispersible tablet. It is the same medicine that HIV-positive adults have been using in South Africa since 2019, but in a special dispersible formulation for young children.

The other, known as the ‘four-in-one’, contains four ARVs that have been used in young children for some time. But it has a far better taste. Both treatments are effective, safe and well tolerated.

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'No child should die from HIV ever again'

“No child should die or become sick from HIV ever again," says Dr Julia Turner, senior technical advisor at Right to Care. "Children on ARVs can look forward to living as long and healthily as those who don’t have HIV," she adds.

Turner says another benefit to taking their medication and controlling the disease: they won't pass on HIV to their partners and children when they grow up. "HIV is now a very easily managed disease,” she says.

Ensuring the HIV-positive child is on the best meds

Turner and Levin appeal to all parents and caregivers to ensure their HIV-positive child is on the best medication and to check with their healthcare worker if their child's HIV is well controlled.

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This is assessed by testing the HIV viral load. Levin explains: “Controlled HIV occurs when the viral load of the patient is suppressed or undetectable. If the child’s viral load is not suppressed, parents should ask their healthcare workers to do something about it. This may include starting the child on one of the new formulations as soon as they become available.”

HIV testing 

Children with HIV who are treated early will live as long as anybody else, but they must be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

“Testing is therefore critical,” says Turner. “Take your child for an HIV test at your closest health facility if there is any slight possibility of the child having HIV. It is far better to know early and get your child onto treatment as soon as possible.” 

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