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We need more research and data on cancer in HIV-infected children in Africa

According to IARC (2015), the reported worldwide incidence of childhood cancer is increasing, from 165,000 new cases annually to 215,000 cases for children 14 years and younger and 85,000 new cases for 15-19 year-olds. While in high income countries, 80% of children with cancer are cured, in low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of children with cancer are found, the cure rates are far lower.

In many of the low- and middle-income countries where children are suffering or dying from malaria and the many consequences of malnutrition and HIV, cancer may not always be recognized as a high-priority. However, HIV-infection and related morbidities are increasing the risk of children developing cancer.

Of the 2.1 million children globally with HIV, 1.4 million are in sub- Saharan Africa, but not much cancer data for this population can be found.  Recent research shows that cancer mortality in HIV-infected children remains high in resource-limited countries.[i] The research findings show that combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) reduces the risk of developing cancer and starting ART before severe immunosuppression develops is key to prevent cancer in HIV-infected children.

This shows that there is an urgent need for better data on the risk of HIV-infected children developing cancer and the impact of preventative measures especially in regions with a high prevalence of HIV. For better treatment outcomes early cancer detection, access to essential medicines and ART is also critical for HIV-positive children.