The number of adolescent deaths from AIDS has tripled over the last 15 years, according to new data released Friday by UNICEF.
AIDS is the number one cause of death among adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents globally. Among HIV-affected populations, adolescents are the only group for which the mortality figures are not decreasing.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest prevalence, girls are vastly more affected, accounting for 7 in 10 new infections among 15-19 year olds.
However, among adolescents in that age group in the region, just over 1 in 10 are tested for HIV.
“It is critical that young people who are HIV-positive have access to treatment, care and support,” said Craig McClure, head of UNICEF’s global HIV/AIDS programmes, at the Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg yesterday. “At the same time, those who are HIV-negative must have access to the knowledge and means to help them to stay that way.”
According to the data in UNICEF’s Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS, less than half of children under 2 months old are tested for HIV. Only 1 in 3 of the 2.6 million children under the age of 15 living with HIV are on treatment.
The new data states that most adolescents who die of AIDS-related illnesses acquired HIV when they were infants, 10 to 15 years ago, when fewer pregnant women and mothers living with HIV received antiretroviral medicines to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. These children have survived into their teenage years, sometimes without knowing their HIV status.
However, since 2000, nearly 1.3 million new infections among children have been averted, largely due to advances in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
By 2014, 3 in 5 pregnant women living with HIV received anti-retroviral treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. This has translated into a 60 per cent reduction in AIDS-related deaths among children under 4 years of age since 2000. These efforts to eliminate mother-to-child transmission will help to change the course of the epidemic for the next generation of adolescents.
The data reveal that currently among adolescents (15-19):
- 26 new infections occur every hour; and
- About half of those living with HIV are in just six countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania.
“The gains we have made on preventing mother to child transmission are laudable, and to be celebrated,” McClure added, “but immediate investments are needed to get life-saving treatment to children and adolescents who are infected.”