Background: Children are largely underrepresented among those accessing treatment of HIV infection in Africa. Reported outcomes of children enrolled in national care and treatment programs are needed to inform the widespread scale-up of pediatric HIV care in resource-limited settings.
Methods: The objective of this article is to report on the early outcomes of a pediatric HIV infection care and treatment program in Lesotho during its first 14 months of operation. Clinical protocols are described, and characteristics and outcomes of the first cohort of children enrolled in care are reported, derived from a retrospective review of medical records.
Results: In the program's first 14 months, 1566 children and adolescents aged between 0 and 16 years were evaluated for HIV, with 567 (36%) confirmed to be infected. Of infected patients, 61% presented with advanced or severe symptoms of HIV disease and 65% presented with CD4 profiles consistent with advanced or severe immunodeficiency, based on World Health Organization 2006 guidelines. Two hundred and eighty four children received highly active antiretroviral therapy. The mortality rate was 18.6 deaths per 100 patient years of follow-up. Ninety-nine percent of deaths occurred within 90 days of enrollment. Deceased patients were significantly younger, had higher rates of stunting and wasting, and were more likely to present with low CD4 cell counts.
Conclusion: Highly active antiretroviral therapy was well tolerated, but the early mortality rate was high despite concurrent management of HIV and comorbidities. Given that hundreds of thousands of children remain without access to HIV care, renewed efforts are needed to reach this underserved population.