Late antiretroviral therapy start persists for children under two years of age in low- and middle-income countries

Immunodeficiency in children starting antiretroviral therapy in low-, middle-, and high-income countries.

Koller M, Patel K, Chi BH, Wools-Kaloustian K, Dicko F, Chokephaibulkit K, Chimbetete C, Avila D, Hazra R, Ayaya S, Leroy V, Truong HK, Egger M, Davies MA, IeDEA, NISDI, PHACS and IMPAACT 219C studies.  J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Jan 1;68(1):62-72. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000380.

Background: The CD4 cell count or percent (CD4%) at the start of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is an important prognostic factor in children starting therapy and an important indicator of program performance. We describe trends and determinants of CD4 measures at cART initiation in children from low-, middle-, and high-income countries.

Methods: We included children aged <16 years from clinics participating in a collaborative study spanning sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Missing CD4 values at cART start were estimated through multiple imputation. Severe immunodeficiency was defined according to World Health Organization criteria. Analyses used generalized additive mixed models adjusted for age, country, and calendar year.

Results: A total of 34 706 children from 9 low-income, 6 lower middle-income, 4 upper middle-income countries, and 1 high-income country (United States) were included; 20 624 children (59%) had severe immunodeficiency. In low-income countries, the estimated prevalence of children starting cART with severe immunodeficiency declined from 76% in 2004 to 63% in 2010. Corresponding figures for lower middle-income countries were from 77% to 66% and for upper middle-income countries from 75% to 58%. In the United States, the percentage decreased from 42% to 19% during the period 1996 to 2006. In low- and middle-income countries, infants and children aged 12-15 years had the highest prevalence of severe immunodeficiency at cART initiation.

Conclusions: Despite progress in most low- and middle-income countries, many children continue to start cART with severe immunodeficiency. Early diagnosis and treatment of HIV-infected children to prevent morbidity and mortality associated with immunodeficiency must remain a global public health priority.

Abstract access [1] 

Editor’s notes: This article describes trends and determinants of CD4 cell measures at antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation in about 35 000 children in low, middle, and high-income countries. Temporal trends in CD4 measures at ART initiation are a useful indicator of the health system’s ability to identify and treat eligible children in a timely fashion. They are also a useful measure of responsiveness to guideline changes.

Previous WHO guidelines recommended early ART initiation, regardless of immunologic or clinical thresholds. But the authors found that in 2010, approximately two-thirds of children below two years of age, in low- and middle-income countries were still starting ART with severe immunodeficiency.

Delayed country-level implementation of WHO guidelines, poor access to early infant diagnosis, slow turn-around time of test results, and limited ART availability for infants and young children are all contributing factors to this delayed ART initiation. The authors point out that timely diagnosis of paediatric HIV does not necessarily result in timely ART. The main reasons for this diagnosis to treatment gap include HIV diagnostic tests and paediatric ART being located at separate sites without robust referral mechanisms between services. There are challenges with CD4 measurement to determine eligibility. These include access to tests, turn-around time and interpretation of results and health care worker discomfort with treating children.

Currently, only 22% of children living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are receiving ART. To decrease the treatment gap among children, WHO 2013 guidelines recommend universal ART for all children living with HIV, aged below five years of age, irrespective of CD4 count or clinical stage. Removing the requirement for a CD4 measurement also removes the time lag while waiting for CD4 results. Thus the guidelines aim both to increase treatment accessibility and to accelerate treatment initiation for all children. 

HIV Treatment [4]
Africa [5], Asia [6], Northern America [7]
Benin [8], Botswana [9], Brazil [10], Burkina Faso [11], Cambodia [12], Côte d'Ivoire [13], Ghana [14], India [15], Indonesia [16], Kenya [17], Malawi [18], Malaysia [19], Mali [20], Mozambique [21], Peru [22], Rwanda [23], Senegal [24], South Africa [25], Thailand [26], Uganda [27], United Republic of Tanzania [28], United States of America [29], Viet Nam [30], Zambia [31], Zimbabwe [32]
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