Human rights body calls for urgent ARTs for Kenyan children

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- International Human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Wa tch Tuesday raised the red flag over the fate of over 40,000 children in Kenya s u ffering from the HIV/AIDS virus, saying they were likely to die in the next 24 m o nths if they do not receive antiretroviral treatment (ART).
HRW, in a 100-page report titled "A Question of Life or Death: Treatment Access for Children Living with HIV in Kenya,” released Tuesday observed that though A n ti-retroviral drugs are free in Kenya, they were not reaching two-thirds of the c hildren who urgently need them.
"The Kenyan government has focused on getting treatment to adults but has neglec ted children living with HIV," Juliane Kippenberg, senior researcher on Africa i n the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch claimed in the report.
There are at least 60,000 children in need of anti-retroviral treatment in Kenya .
The number could be considerably higher if one takes into account recent governm ent guidelines that require all HIV-positive infants to get treatment.
At present, only 20,000 children - a third or less - of the children are getting treatment, compared to about 54 per cent of the estimated 392,000 adults in nee d of treatment.
Nearly 90 per cent of HIV-positive children worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa .
More than half of the global number of people in need of treatment live in Easte rn and Southern Africa, and the region has the highest number, worldwide, of chi l d deaths due to HIV.
Kenya is representative of many of the challenges Eastern and Southern Africa fa ce in fighting the epidemic.
Human Rights Watch appealed both to the Kenyan government to strengthen health a nd child-protection systems to get children the treatment they need, and to inte r national donors to support these measures and to help strengthen Kenya's health s ystem as a whole.
HIV-positive mothers and children often experience discrimination, violence, and property loss, making it harder for the women and their children to seek care.
Children, especially those orphaned by AIDS, are sometimes neglected, abused, or sent from one relative to another.
The result often is that they don't get treatment.
Economic barriers to treatment are also considerable.
"Families often cannot afford transportation to health clinics or simply enough food for the medicines to work properly," Kippenberg said, adding "as a result, c hildren do not get the medicine they need, or they are forced to stop their trea t ment.
" Post-election violence in early 2008 also disrupted some children's treatment, w hile most patients were back on treatment within a few weeks, some children stop p ed taking the drugs due to lack of food or supply failures and died as a result.
Access to HIV services remains precarious for displaced children living in trans it camps.
Human Rights Watch called on the government to address barriers to HIV treatment for children by strengthening legal protections, health policies, food security , and community mobilization.
It also suggested to the country’s health authorities to develop child-focused health policies and services, including pediatric treatment at local-level healt h facilities and at the same time expand the role of community health workers, w h o often help children get access to care.
The country should also strengthen child-protection services, for AIDS orphans i n particular and also intensify campaigns to reduce the stigma of HIV.

16 december 2008 15:30:00

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