Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is one of the worldwide public health issues and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that almost 33 millions of the world population lives with HIV and 4.4 million children (under 18 years old) are infected with the virus and resulted in 3.2 million deaths of children living with HIV.
HIV in childhood carries a high mortality rate where 25% to 30% of HIV-positive babies die before their first birthday and those who survived develop symptoms early in their life, in the absence of detection, prevention and treatment.
These are the routes which exposed a person to the virus:
- Sexual contact
- Through contaminated blood products
- Mother to child transmission
What are the possible causes of HIV in children and how did they acquire the infection? These are some possible causes of how children could get HIV and a summary of it.
Mother To Child Transmission
This is one of the most common causes of HIV in childhood. The virus is transmitted to the children in three ways, be it inside the womb (in utero), during delivery and during breastfeeding. This could happen in mothers with undiagnosed HIV status, high viral load and non-compliance to the antiretroviral medications. This could be prevented by having proper antenatal care for the mothers and encouraging them to be compliant to the medicine. This could result in the child being born with HIV-negative status.
Childhood Sexual Abuse
Children sometimes tend to be exploited, especially the ones coming from a low socioeconomic status. Some children involved into human trafficking and being forced to involved in sexual activities such as prostitution and rape. In some countries, childhood marriage is accepted culturally and this of course increases the risk of the transmission as the HIV status of the husband is unknown and younger children tends to have higher chance to get infected by HIV the younger they have sex for the first time.
In lower socioeconomic status and neglected children groups, these children lack parental attention and guidance and they tend to follow their peers and older people with bad influence who appear as their “idols” and “family” as they make these children feel accepted among them. These people later influence them to use drugs, tricking and manipulating them that the drugs will make them feel better. In some countries, young children start to use drugs as early as 10 years old! From the drugs, the children tend to explore a more high risk activities such as having random and unprotected sex.
This area is focused on teenagers, as their sexual drive tends to rise and the curiosity to explore something new is rising at this point of time. Most of them do not know they have HIV especially when they are sexually active, have multiple partners and do not wear protection when doing the act. This happens due to lack of exposure to sexual education, especially how sexually transmitted infection could happen and how these diseases can put them at risk.
As a takeaway message, it is important to educate the public, parents and teenagers regarding the disease and the importance of preventing contracting the disease and as well as the importance of preventing the progression of the disease. Although there is no cure for HIV at this moment of time, with the availability of antiretroviral medications, the life expectancy and quality of life of HIV-positive patients can be improved.
For the HIV-positive children, the parents should let them know that it was not the children’s fault that they have the disease and a constant emotional and moral should be given to them so that they do not blame themselves for having the disease.
For further reading on HIV, you can read more about it on our health center page.