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HIV treatment for children

Antiretroviral treatment (ART) means taking antiretroviral drugs (also called antiretrovirals or ARVs) to control HIV. This keeps children with HIV healthy and helps them lead a normal life. 

Your healthcare professional will help you find the right type of treatment for your child. 

Children need support to take their medication. Check out our tips on how to help them.

I have HIV and I’ve just had a baby. Will my baby need treatment?

Yes. Once your baby is born, they will need to take HIV treatment to help prevent HIV infection. 

After a few weeks your baby will be tested for HIV. If the result is negative, they can stop taking the treatment.  

Your baby should be tested again at 18 months (and/or at the end of breastfeeding if this is later). This is the final test to make sure they are HIV-negative. 

If the result is positive for either of these tests, your baby will need to start treatment straight away.  

My baby/child has HIV, will treatment keep them healthy?

Yes it will, but make sure that your child takes their treatment every day. Without treatment, HIV will damage your child’s immune system – putting them at risk of getting ill. Untreated HIV is particularly serious for babies and young children. 

What treatment does my child need?

The exact drugs will vary according to guidelines in your country. Some types of HIV treatment for babies and young children are available as liquids or syrups. However, not all drugs are available in this form, and some may not be available where you live.  

Your healthcare professional will explain how much of the drug (the dose) you need to give your child. This will change as your child grows and gets heavier. 

How do I talk to my child about their HIV treatment?

Children can find it difficult to understand why they must take medication every day. Talk to your child about their treatment to help them accept it. Depending on your child’s age, you can decide how much detail to go into. 

Encourage your child to ask questions and let them know that they can always speak to you. Be prepared to answer any questions by learning more about how their treatment works. 

Remember that many other parents have had children with HIV. If you know other families affected by HIV, you could ask them for tips. 

My child is growing into a young adult. Is there different advice for young people?

We have specialist information about adherence to HIV treatment for young people.  

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How do you know if a child’s HIV treatment is working?

A healthcare professional will check this by monitoring the child’s: 

  • viral load (amount of virus in their body)  

  • CD4 count (strength of their immune system)  

  • general health. 

If it seems that treatment isn’t working, they will want to find out why. They will ask the parent(s) about adherence (if the child is taking their treatment correctly). Perhaps the child is having problems taking the treatment. Or maybe the parent(s) have been forgetting to give it to them. 

But, if the treatment itself isn’t working, there are other medications the child can take.  

How do I help my child take their HIV medicine?

Children may find pills difficult to swallow, or dislike the taste of a liquid drug. Some children can’t understand why they must take medication every day. There are lots of things you can do to make it easier for them: 

  • make the medicine part of your child’s daily routine – just like washing, brushing teeth, or getting ready for bed – this will help it to feel more normal 

  • praise or reward your child after they have taken their medicine 

  • if you are also on treatment, take it at the same time as your child to set a good example 

  • talk to them to understand if they don’t like taking their treatment, so you can better support them 

  • be aware of possible side effects of the drugs and look out for them. If you think your child is experiencing side effects, talk to your healthcare professional. 

Your child may need more support as they get older, particularly when they become a teenager. Being able to meet other young people with HIV – for example, through a community group – can help them to stick to their treatment. 

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