Researchers from the University of Alabama have stumbled upon a key drug therapy that could help save lives of HIV-infected African kids.
The study found that by providing HIV combination antiretroviral drug the disease could be treated in African children. However, another important factor is that trained health care workers should deliver the therapy on time and monitor patients regularly, especially when doctors were in short supply.
In the study, the data was collected by examining the health of 4,975 children for three years at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ).
The researchers said that on average the children enrolled in the study experienced a more than doubling of their CD4 cell counts after one year of antiretrovirals, from an average of 12.9 percent CD4 count to 27 percent CD4 count.
The CD4 count is a blood test for a certain type of white blood cell that allows health care providers to monitor the effect of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on the immune system.
Low CD4 counts imply weakening of the immune system, which puts patients at an increased risk for developing AIDS and other opportunistic infections.
"We know from work in the U.S. and Europe that children do well on antiretroviral drugs. But we were surprised in this study at just how high their CD4 counts went, and how quickly they went up," Jeffrey Stringer, M.D., director of CIDRZ and a professor in UAB's Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology said.
The UAB study also found that HIV-infected children who received antiretrovirals went up noticeably in what is called the 'weight-for-age' score, which is calculated from standardized paediatric growth charts and is used to monitor the health of HIV-infected infants and children.
All the children in the study were already two points below their expected weight-for-age score, and those who were infected but did not get antiretrovirals worsened.
But, those who did the drugs went up in weight, and many of the youngest HIV patients in the study went up by an entire point in their weight-for-age score.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.