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The impact of the HIV epidemic on child health globally is beginning to be appreciated. With the burden of new infections falling on young women, there is a skyrocketing number of AIDS orphans, and a rapidly increasing number of children infected via mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT). An estimated 600,000 new paediatric infections occur each year, of which some 1500/day (> 90%) occur in sub-Saharan Africa. But whereas children account for only 4% of those currently living with HIV infection, 20% of AIDS deaths have been in children. This reflects the rapid progression to disease in paediatric HIV infection. Whereas a dramatic reduction in viraemia follows acute adult infection, corresponding to the appearance of a vigorous anti-HIV cytotoxic T lymphocyte response, virtually no impact of the immune response is observed in acute paediatric infection following MTCT. Two specific challenges for the paediatric immune response are: (i) infection occurs before the immune system itself is fully developed; and (ii) the viruses transmitted by MTCT have already evaded an immune system sharing close genetic relatedness to that of the child. Accumulating evidence indicates that the immune system is potentially capable of effective control of HIV infection, and that events occurring in acute infection critically determine the ultimate outcome. Technological advances that have transformed the study of T-cell immunity now enable the developing immune system in childhood to be better understood. Via novel immunotherapeutic approaches described, it may be possible to modulate the infant's immune response to reach effective and durable suppression of HIV, as can be achieved by the rare long-term non-progressors of HIV infection. The feasibility of adopting these approaches globally are as yet untested. Finally, the striking disparity between the burden of paediatric HIV infection and access to the necessary infrastructure and therapeutic options required for its optimal management is addressed in a comparison between three sites of paediatric HIV care: Durban, South Africa; London, UK; and Boston, USA.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Br Med Bull

Publication Date

2001

Volume

58

Pages

89 - 108

Keywords

Adult, Child, Child, Preschool, Disease Outbreaks, Disease Progression, Female, Global Health, HIV Infections, Humans, Immunity, Immunotherapy, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical, Pregnancy, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic