Intensive care facilities are always in demand in the public sector and there is constant competition for beds. Appropriate allocation of children to these resources is based on the ethical principles of distributive justice and beneficence that is determined on the presumed short-term outcome of the acute illness, long-term outcome of the underlying chronic disease and the overall demand for these facilities. At the onset of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, HIV-infected children were refused admission to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) on the basis of poor ICU outcomes and the lack of provision of combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) for survivors. The recent significant improvement in outcome in these patients through early recognition and treatment of HIV-related opportunistic infections, the provision of advanced organ support and the routine availability of cART suggests that the previous policy requires review. Ethical principles, the Paediatric Index of Mortality Score for each request, the quality and disability-adjusted life years and cost-effectiveness of care are all important considerations in deciding which patients should be allowed access to these limited and expensive resources. With the improved long-term outcome in HIV-infected children on cART, admission of these cases to a PICU should now be based on the prognosis of the acute illness, as with any other chronic disease such as asthma or diabetes. Withholding and withdrawing advanced life support should accord with standard protocols applied to any condition for which a child is admitted to the PICU.