Do you know how AIDS is treated in children? Do you know how effective it can be?

For adults, the primary combatant against the one-two punch of HIV and AIDS is antiretroviral therapy. These drugs delay the onset of AIDS indefinitely by pinpointing and undermining any of numerous stages in AIDS’ development. One type of antiretroviral drugs, reverse transcriptase inhibitors, disables the ability of the HIV virus to replicate its DNA, stopping its spread within the body. Another type, protease inhibitors, prevents human cells from replicating the virus. Yet another set of drugs, fusion and entry inhibitors, protects cells from penetration by the virus. The World Health Organization recommends that each HIV+ patient take a personalized mixture of these three antiretroviral drugs. Such a regimen is called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).

Developed mostly during the 1990s, with small breakthroughs occurring throughout the 2000s, HAART drugs have been critical in fighting the virus. Adherence to a prescribed HAART regimen can turn a lethal disease into a manageable (though still lifelong) condition, provided the medications are diverse enough that the patient does not develop a strain of HIV that is immune to them. In the United States, because of them, thousands of people have survived well past their HIV-estimated life expectancy. These medications allow HIV victims to lead something very close to a normal life. Unfortunately, in the developing world, the medications have not been distributed nearly as widely as possible. And among those whom HAART has reached, HIV+ children are underrepresented—this is why the AFCA does the work that it does.

Because HIV+ children and especially infants succumb more quickly to AIDS than adults do, the children’s treatment regimen is more severe—and much more needed. On average, the younger the victim, the faster the disease will set in. Additionally, especially with infants, laboratories are far less able to predict how fast a child will develop AIDS than how fast an adult will. This makes the provision of treatment all the more critical. With regard to newborns, pregnant mothers are encouraged to take HAART as soon as possible in order to prevent transmission to their children. Usually, if begun quickly enough, this effort is successful. Should it fail, however, the newborn should receive medication every day for the first week of his or her life and should begin a set HAART regimen as soon as possible thereafter.

Children’s particular vulnerability to the virus makes the AFCA’s work all the more powerful. At our 16 sites across Africa, the AFCA fights to provide antiretroviral therapy for children who need it. Find out how you can get involved on the AFCA website!