Total of HIV centre babies rises 600%

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of babies and children with HIV infection seen by the country's main centre has risen 600 per cent in the past three years.

When the paediatric HIV centre began in 1991 at St Mary's Hospital in London there were 15 children on its books. Now the number recorded has risen to 100, doctors said yesterday.

At the launch of the Children with Aids Charity in London yesterday, Dr Sam Walters, a specialist in paediatric HIV, said: 'Children are not small adults.

'Aids affects children very differently. Everyday childhood infections can become life-threatening and the onslaught of chronic illness can often affect the child's development.'

Children also had different psychological and emotional needs from adults. For instance, they can find loss much harder to handle.

Most of these children - from babies to teenagers - are the children of HIV mothers. Some already have already experienced the death of their mother. Some are haemophiliac boys infected by contaminated blood.

Jo Dodge, administrator of the unit at St Mary's, said it acted as a national centre, often seeing children who failed to thrive or those with chest infections who are transferred from other hospitals. Later it aims to share the care with local health services.

'Whatever the distance for families, they can be very relieved to come to us and find others with similar experiences,' she said.

'One of the difficulties with children is that parents may not be able to tell their families. And while we encourage children to be open and honest we have to tell them 'not to tell'.'

The parents of one HIV baby had to move after having tombstone pictures pushed through their door.

European research has found that about one in seven HIV mothers passes infection to her baby, in pregnancy or at birth. This doubles when the mothers also breast-feed.

In the United Kingdom a total of 594 babies had been born to HIV mothers by January; 63 have died; 223 are confirmed HIV cases. Babies carry their mothers' antibodies in the early months of life. This means that babies must be tested after 18 months to make sure that any HIV antibodies detected are their own and not those of their mothers.

Peter Glover, communications manager for the charity Aids Care Education and Training, said: 'The figures reflect our own findings. Thirty per cent of those we now look after are women. It is a reflection also of predicted spread in the heterosexual community.'