New Delhi: Infants born with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 80 low- and middle-income countries could have a greater chance of survival, with Roche Diagnostics and partners agreeing to bring test kits at a reduced price of $9.40 for selected organizations in these countries.

Conventionally, HIV in a newborn’s body is tested only after 18 months and it cannot be accomplished with conventional antibody tests due to passively transferred maternal antibodies. In India, early infant HIV diagnosis for those below 18 months was rolled out only in 2010. Diagnosis and early start of HIV treatment could vastly help such children.

Apart from Roche, partners involved in facilitating this lower price include UNAIDS, the Clinton Health Access Initiative Inc., the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and UNITAID.

Diagnostics Access Initiative from the UNAIDS partnered Roche Diagnostics for cheaper HIV diagnosis kits. The initiative aims to ensure at least 90% of all people living with HIV are aware of their HIV status.

With most deaths among children living with HIV occurring at 6-8 weeks, the World Health Organization recommends that all children exposed to HIV receive infant diagnostic screening within the first two months of life. But only about 50% of children exposed to HIV receive such screening, in part because costs have limited the number of testing platforms currently used in low- and middle-income countries.

This has contributed to a major gap in HIV treatment access, as in 2014, only 32% of children living with HIV received antiretroviral therapy (ART), compared with 41% of adults living with HIV. Without knowing the HIV status of a child, it is impossible to access life-saving treatment. Without treatment, half of all children born with HIV will die by the age of two and the majority will die by the age of five.

According to National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO’s) 2012-2013 Annual Report, children less than 15 years of age account for 7% (1.45 lakh) of all infections; while 86% are in the age-group of 15-49 years. There were 34,367 children on ART as per the report. Dr Naresh Goel deputy director feneral, NACO, said, “ This slashing of prices will definitely help our Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) programme but only when the machines being used are upgraded for these specific kits."

“This agreement with Roche Diagnostics is a powerful step towards ending the unconscionable failure of the world to meet the treatment needs of children living with HIV," said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. “We now need to use this agreement to rapidly scale up diagnostic and treatment services for all children living with HIV, in line with the 90-90-90 target."

The 90-90-90 target provides that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with an HIV diagnosis will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will achieve viral suppression.