- Closing the Gaps in Pediatric HIV/AIDS Care, One Step at a Time
Fatuma's* doctors were completely perplexed. It was 2003 and she had returned to the DARDAR clinic in her hometown of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania three times that week with vague complaints of various pains and aches. Her doctors were considering whether these symptoms were due to the initiation of her recent treatment with antiretroviral medications for her HIV infection or related to the last administration of the investigational tuberculosis (TB) vaccine that the DARDAR Health Study was evaluating. Fatuma's doctor, Dr. Lillian Mtei, consulted with Dartmouth's chief of Infectious Disease, Dr. Ford von Reyn, who happened to be in Dar that week on a site visit. Neither physician could determine the basis for her symptoms. Dr. Mtei returned to the exam room once more and this time emerged with the answer: Fatuma had just learned that her three year old daughter was HIV-infected, likely contracted from Fatuma during or shortly after she gave birth to her daughter. Fatuma believed that her HIV diagnosis was a death sentence for her daughter since antiretroviral therapy was not widely available for children.
Dr. von Reyn, Dartmouth's lead clinical researcher in Africa and a father, knew too well the harsh reality of inequities in a resource-limited country. He turned to Dr. Mtei and said decidedly, "we need to do something about this."
Thus the DARDAR Pediatric Program was born.
Pediatric HIV: A Neglected Disease
The need for HIV treatment among children in Tanzania, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, is compelling. At the end of 2009, approximately 160,000 children aged zero to fourteen in Tanzania were living with HIV (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS [UNAIDS], 2011). Even with successful roll out of prevention of mother to child transmission programs in Tanzania, there were nearly 29,000 perinatal infections in 2009. As of December 2010, only 18% of these were enrolled in HIV treatment programs (UNAIDS, 2011; World Health Organization [WHO], 2011). Without antiretroviral therapy (ART), one-half of HIV-infected children will die before their second birthday. Since clinical research to determine efficacy and safety of new medical treatments is conducted almost exclusively in adults, provision of new medical treatments to [End Page 75] children always lags behind advances for adults. Furthermore, children are often underrepresented in programs for antiretroviral drugs for the following reasons: 1) they are not prioritized for care; 2) facilities lack infant diagnostic capabilities; 3) there is limited pediatric HIV training and consequently, a shortage of pediatric providers; and 4) pediatric antiretroviral formulations are frequently unavailable. The unacceptable delays in pediatric HIV drug development and treatment access led the international organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative to publish an editorial in which they referred to pediatric HIV as a "neglected disease" (Lallemant, Chang, Cohen, & Pecoul, 2011).
The Tip of the Iceberg: More than Just Medicines
With a grant from the New York-based Foundation for the Treatment of Children with AIDS, the DARDAR Pediatric Program, a joint collaboration between Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, began seeing patients in May 2006. It was the first dedicated pediatric HIV Care and Treatment Center in Tanzania and operates in accordance with Tanzania's National AIDS Control Programme's guidance. Testing for both children and infants (the latter of which requires a more sophisticated assay) is available.
The day the clinic opened we celebrated this collaborative effort that would provide HIV-infected children in Dar es Salaam access to antiretroviral treatment. One of our first patients was a six-year-old boy whose mother, like Fatuma, was a participant in our TB vaccine trial. She had been advised to bring her son to us for HIV screening. Her son looked healthy so she was surprised and understandably distraught when his test results indicated that not only was he HIV-infected, but his CD4 percentage was very low. His mother was reluctant to have him started on antiretrovirals given his general appearance and young age—and that he was...