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ZAMBIA: Routine HIV Testing can Save Children's Lives

JOHANNESBURG, 8 June 2009 (PlusNews) - The routine offer of an HIV test to children admitted to a hospital in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, resulted in more than 3,000 being diagnosed with the virus over an 18-month period.

HIV progresses rapidly in infants and many die before they are diagnosed or can receive life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. As part of a study, researchers at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka implemented a policy of offering HIV counselling and testing to the parents or caregivers of all children admitted to the hospital between January 2006 and June 2007.

Of the 11,571 children tested, 29 percent were HIV-positive; younger children were more likely to be infected, with those under 18 months accounting for two-thirds of those testing positive. Children admitted to the malnutrition ward were also significantly more likely to be infected.

Zambia, which has an HIV prevalence of 25 percent among pregnant women, already has a policy of routinely HIV testing mothers attending antenatal clinics - those who do not wish to be tested can opt out - but an estimated 28,000 children are still born with HIV every year.

The study findings, published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, underscored the need for more children in high-prevalence settings, such as Zambia, to be tested at a young age.

The researchers noted that routine testing of paediatric in-patients could help identify HIV-positive children in countries with generalised HIV epidemics.

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