Background: The impact of extended use of ART in developing countries has been enormous. A thorough understanding of all factors contributing to the success of antiretroviral therapy is required. The current study aims to investigate the value of cross-sectional drug resistance monitoring using DNA and RNA oligonucleotide ligation assays (OLA) in treatment cohorts in low-resource settings. The study was conducted in the first cohort of children gaining access to structured ART in Peru.Methods: Between 2002-5, 46 eligible children started the standard regimen of AZT, 3TC and NFV Patients had a median age of 5.6 years (range: 0.7-14y), a median viral load of 1.7·105 RNA/ml (range: 2.1·103 - 1.2·106), and a median CD4-count of 232 cells/μL (range: 1-1591). Of these, 20 patients were classified as CDC clinical category C and 31/46 as CDC immune category 3. At the time of cross-sectional analysis in 2005, adherence questionnaires were administered. DNA OLAs and RNA OLAs were performed from frozen PBMC and plasma, RNA genotyping from dried blood spots.Results: During the first year of ART, 44% of children experienced virologic failure, with an additional 9% failing by the end of the second year. Virologic failure was significantly associated with the number of resistance mutations detected by DNA-OLA (p < 0.001) during cross-sectional analysis, but also with low immunologic CDC-scores at baseline (p < 0.001). Children who had been exposed to unsupervised short-term antiretrovirals before starting structured ART showed significantly higher numbers of resistance mutations by DNA-OLA (p = 0.01). Detection of M184V (3TC resistance) by RNA-OLA and DNA-OLA demonstrated a sensitivity of 0.93 and 0.86 and specificity of 0.67 and 0.7, respectively, for the identification of virologic failure. The RT mutations N88D and L90M (NFV resistance) detected by DNA-OLA correlated with virologic failure, whereas mutations at RT position 215 (AZT resistance) were not associated with virologic failure.Conclusions: Advanced immunosuppression at baseline and previous exposures to unsupervised brief cycles of ART significantly impaired treatment outcomes at a time when structured ART was finally introduced in his cohort. Brief maternal exposures to with AZT +/- NVP for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission did not affect treatment outcomes in this group of children. DNA-OLA from frozen PBMC provided a highly specific tool to detect archived drug resistance. RNA consensus genotyping from dried blood spots and RNA-OLA from plasma consistently detected drug resistance mutations, but merely in association with virologic failure. © 2013 Rath et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.