China badly needs AIDS drugs for children. Most young HIV carriers in China either have to take adult drugs or else receive no treatment at all, experts said.
"Many Chinese children living with HIV/AIDS have no access to suitable drugs," said Li Qimin, deputy director of China's National Committee for the Care of Children (CNCCC), at an ongoing Beijing summer camp for kids affected by AIDS.
"Many kids react strongly to adult formulation drugs, they vomit or become feverish," Li said.
In China, there are officially 1,535 child HIV sufferers, but health experts estimate that the real number of infected children is more than 9,000, said Xu Wenqing, a health official with UNICEF China.
"Drugs are essential to guarantee these kids survive," Xu said, adding that pediatric AIDS drugs, all imported from overseas, are in short supply in China.
Last year, the U.S. Clinton Foundation provided China with the first batch of pediatric drugs to fight HIV/AIDS. About 250 children in provinces hard-hit by AIDS, such as Henan and Yunnan, benefited.
Dr. Christian Voumard, Chair of the United Nations AIDS Theme Group and UNICEF Representative, said the initiative was a "significant success", but admitted many children are still given less effective adult formulations and some have no access at all to life-saving drugs.
UNICEF China does not have statistics on infected kids deprived of treatment, Xu said, but she knew of kids living without drugs since local doctors were unsure whether they could be given adult formulation drugs without dramatic side effects.
Children are given reduced doses of adult drugs, Xu said, but cutting an adult's pill into half is not a good way to reduce the dose because the components of a pill are usually not distributed equally.
The dose should vary according to the patient's weight changes, so cutting up pills is not a good approach, she added.
China's estimate of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS has been revised downwards from 840,000 to 650,000. Most people are infected by contaminated blood or by intravenous drug taking.
Health experts believe Asia is the new frontline in the fight against the killer disease, as the number of AIDS victims in the region is quickly catching up with Africa.
According to a previous UNICEF report, more than 30,000 children have to live with HIV or AIDS. Nearly 11,000 of them were newly infected last year. Millions more children and young people are at high risk of HIV infection or suffer from stigma and discrimination, it said.
Seventy children orphaned by AIDS or living with sick parents gathered in Beijing from Aug. 8 for a week-long summer camp. They will live with 70 Beijing families during the camp.