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African Clinic Struggles to Help Children with AIDS

A sign marks the location of a Doctors Without Borders HIV clinic in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.
Jason Beaubien, NPR
A sign marks the location of a Doctors Without Borders HIV clinic in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

AIDS killed nearly half a million children in Africa last year. Hundreds of thousands more are in need of treatment for the disease or the virus that causes it. But few get that treatment.

Efforts to provide HIV/AIDS drugs on the continent reach just a small percentage of the people in need, and those efforts tend to focus on adults.

The group Doctors Without Borders says treating HIV-positive children is even more difficult because of a lack of pediatric AIDS drugs.

Kibera, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, has been hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. Even by the most conservative estimates, thousands of Kibera's children are HIV positive. But conditions there illustrate the difficulty of treating children for HIV/AIDS.

Available HIV tests can't be given to children until they're at least 18 months old. Most of the available drugs were manufactured primarily for adults. Some AIDS drugs used by children have to be refrigerated, which is almost impossible in slums like Kibera. And others need to be crushed and mixed with clean water which again can be difficult in places with no reliable plumbing.

Experts say that if HIV/AIDS drugs are going to be rolled out in Africa to the millions of people who need them, the drug regimens -- particularly for children -- need to be simplified.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.

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