EARTH study reveals high mortality rates among infants with HIV despite early treatment 

24 May, 2024

EPIICAL’s EARTH Study reveals challenges persist for infants in Africa with HIV despite early treatment

The EARTH study findings published in eClinical Medicine shed light on the ongoing struggle for infants with HIV in Africa. While early treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) is crucial, the  Early Anti-Retroviral Treatment in Children (EARTH) study  found a concerningly high mortality rate within the first three years of life, even among treated infants.

Millions of children globally are living with HIV, with the vast majority residing in Africa and despite strong recommendations, access to early diagnosis and treatment remains limited for children compared to adults. The EARTH study aimed to understand the long-term health of infants who received early ART. The study followed over 200 infants in Mali, Mozambique, and South Africa who acquired HIV at birth and began early ART.

EARTH identified several factors contributing to the high mortality rate. Infants with a higher viral load at birth, meaning more of the virus present in their bodies, were more likely to die. Furthermore, less than half of the children were able to maintain undetectable viral levels, possibly due to two main reasons. One reason was the high viral load they had at birth. The other reason was likely due to social challenges faced by the mothers, which could have interfered with consistent care. Finally, the study found that being born female and living in resource-limited settings were also linked to a higher risk of death and difficulty controlling the virus.

The EARTH study underscores the urgent need for a multifaceted approach to improve the lives of infants with HIV in Africa.  This includes strengthening healthcare systems to ensure high-quality care and early HIV diagnosis for children and prioritizing interventions to reduce a mother’s viral load before or shortly after birth. Furthermore, exploring new treatment options like long-acting ART and broadly neutralizing antibodies holds promise for achieving earlier viral suppression in these children. While progress has been made, the EARTH study highlights the need for continued efforts to improve the lives of infants living with HIV in Africa.

For more details, please read the full press release here.