amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

AIDS LIFE and TREAT Asia Team Up to Fight Pediatric HIV in Asia

Published September 15, 2015

Gery Keszler, founder of AIDS LIFE, on a TREAT Asia site visit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Today, over 15 million people are accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART), more than twice as many as just five years ago, and this increasing availability of treatment has allowed more children born with HIV in the Asia-Pacific, and throughout the world, to live longer and healthier lives. Many of these young people are now entering adolescence and facing myriad challenges, from disclosing their HIV status to peers, to dealing with drug resistance and the sometimes harsh effects of HIV and long-term treatment, such as difficulties with learning and other brain functions.

Despite the growing population of adolescents living with HIV, many doctors have not been trained to discuss sexual and reproductive health issues with HIV-positive young people or to anticipate the changing needs of their pediatric patients as they age. Across the Asia-Pacific, there is an urgent need for better education on these topics and more support for HIV-positive youth, their families, and their healthcare providers.

To help fill this gap, TREAT Asia launched an ambitious 18-month education and advocacy project with a generous grant from the AIDS LIFE Foundation, based in Vienna, Austria.  “For several years, we have benefited from the generosity of AIDS LIFE and the success of its annual Life Ball, one of the largest HIV/AIDS fundraisers in the world,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “This innovative project is a direct result of their commitment to improving the lives of children and adolescents living with HIV in Asia.”

“This seminar allowed me to get insight into sexual and reproductive health and HIV,” said a Cambodian medical student.The project, which concluded in July, included workshops throughout the region, educational media materials, online HIV outreach strategies aimed at young people, and five TREAT Asia Network programs providing social support to HIV-positive youth and their families. Workshops and seminars in Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, titled “Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and Services for Adolescents and Young Women Living with HIV,” reached nearly 300 healthcare professionals and students from numerous institutions, who could then relay what they learned to colleagues at their home clinics and hospitals.

“This seminar allowed me to get insight into sexual and reproductive health and HIV,” said a Cambodian medical student who attended a seminar in Phnom Penh. “Now I can come up with practical ideas if I meet with HIV-positive patients or couples.”

The project also included a training session on pediatric HIV care and treatment in Jakarta, Indonesia, organized by the Spiritia Foundation and attended by people living with HIV and healthcare providers from nine Indonesian provinces. Participants then conducted half-day trainings in their own communities based on lessons learned and resources shared in Jakarta. In addition, advocates and healthcare professionals from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Nepal attended a regional pediatric care and treatment training held in Bangkok that updated participants on current pediatric HIV treatment guidelines and facilitated discussions of how to better advocate for and support the needs of children and youth.

Another key outcome of the project was the development and production of two original public service videos, which TREAT Asia plans to release later this year. The first, titled “What Does Every Human Being Want?,” depicts the personal experiences of a child growing up with HIV who wants to live her life supported by the people around her without being defined or stigmatized by her HIV infection. The second, “Can People Living with HIV Have Children Without HIV?,” demonstrates that with proper care and support, women with HIV can give birth to healthy, HIV-negative babies.  

“It is increasingly clear that we adults need to re-educate ourselves about the communication approaches and areas of clinical expertise that are needed to provide high-quality care and support to adolescents and young adults,” says Dr. Annette Sohn, director of TREAT Asia. “The AIDS LIFE-funded project helped us to improve our engagement with regional HIV communities and think outside of the usual boxes, and we plan to continue extending our reach in these areas in the future.”