HIV infection can result in neurodevelopmental impairment in children. We do not yet understand the extent to which effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevents these delays, but Global WACh researcher Dr. Sarah Benki-Nugent’s recent study, conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Nairobi, has provided insight to help answer this question. Their study focused on HIV-infected infants in Nairobi Kenya who received ART from the time of infancy and compared their developmental milestone attainment to HIV-unexposed infants.
Most HIV-infected infants in their study were extremely ill at the time of HIV diagnosis and many were first identified in the hospital. Unfortunately, late diagnosis continues to be common in Africa and UNAIDS has recently estimated that only about half of HIV-infected children are receiving treatment.
The study found that overall, HIV-infected infants had later age at attainment of milestones compared to unexposed infants. However, infants who had better responses to treatment had better developmental outcomes. Benki-Nugent and Kenyan research collaborator Dalton Wamalwa say, “We still don’t’ know how children will do in the long-term; however, this data suggests that effective response to ART provided some benefit, even in a group of infants who were very sick when first diagnosed.”
The study suggests that early HIV diagnosis and successful treatment are likely key factors in retaining cognitive and motor neurodevelopment in HIV-infected children. It is also likely critical, Dr. Benki-Nugent says, to provide additional strategies, such as parenting support for early childhood development alongside HIV treatment to help children reach their full potential.
Click here to read more about the researcher’s work recently featured in Infectious Disease Advisor.