Zambian health experts on Friday heralded the results of clinical trials showing that a widely available antibiotic drug could dramatically cut AIDS-related deaths in children.
The trials, conducted in the capital, Lusaka, between 2001 and 2003, were backed by the UK's Department for International Development to test co-trimoxazole, which was given to 540 HIV positive children over a period of nearly 20 months.
The programme was stopped early when it became clear that substantially fewer children on the antibiotic were dying. Across the globe around 1,300 children die from HIV/AIDS illnesses every day.
According to paediatric specialist Dr Ganapati Bhat at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, after 19 months, 74 (28 percent) of the children on co-trimoxazole had died, compared with 112 (42 percent) of those on a placebo. The antibiotic had proven effective against respiratory opportunistic infections associated with HIV infection.
"It was quite obvious that the children who had been administered the antibiotic were doing better than those on the placebo. We immediately decided to put all the children on preventative co-trimoxazole, and those who needed antiretroviral therapy are starting it," he told PlusNews.
It was the first time the low-cost, readily available antibiotic had been tested as a preventative medicine in a large study of children with HIV.
Bhat said co-trimoxazole had the advantage of being cheap and widely available, whereas antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were more expensive, but cautioned that the antibiotic was not intended to replace ARVs and the two should be used in tandem.
Dr Chifumbe Chintu, a principle clinician at the University Teaching Hospital, said: "This will provide a great relief to many African governments who are struggling to provide millions of children with HIV care. It is recommended that any child who has been exposed to HIV is provided with co-trimoxazole prophylaxis and nutritional support, until they test positive for the virus."
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