Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the use of clinical staging alone and with total lymphocyte count to identify HIV infected children in need of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in resource-limited settings, when CD4 cell count is not available.
Methods: We prospectively enrolled children obtaining care for HIV infection at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre Pediatric Infectious Diseases Clinic in Moshi, Tanzania between March 2004 and May 2006 for this cohort study.
Results: One hundred ninety two (89.7%) of 214 children met WHO ART initiation criteria based on clinical staging or CD4 cell count. Several low-cost measures identified individuals who met WHO ART initiation criteria to the following degree: WHO stages 3 or 4 had 87.5% (95% CI, 82.8–92.1) sensitivity and, by definition, 100% (CI, 100–100) specificity; WHO recommended advance disease TLC cutoffs: sensitivity = 23.9% (95% CI, 17.3–30.5) specificity = 78.2% (95% CI, 67.3–89.1). Low TLC was a common finding, (50 of 214; 23%); however, it did not improve the sensitivity or specificity of clinical staging in identifying the severely immunosuppressed stage 2 children. Growth failure or use of total lymphocyte counts in isolation were not reliable indicators of severe immunosuppression or need to initiate ART.
Conclusion: The use of total lymphocyte count does not improve the ability to identify children in need of ART compared with clinical staging alone. Low absolute lymphocyte count did not correlate with severe immunosuppression based on CD4 cell count in this cohort.