HIV and AIDS risks to children and adolescents still too high in Asia & Pacific says UNICEF
Bangkok, Thailand, 19 November 2013 – Of the 350,000 people newly infected with HIV in Asia-Pacific in 2012, some 22,900 were children under 14 years of age and an estimated 58, 000 (17 per cent) were in the 10 to 19 age bracket, according to new figure released today by UNICEF. The data also shows the number of adolescents (10-19 years old) currently living with HIV in the region is approximately 240,000.
These numbers, which show that the battle against HIV and AIDS is far from over in the region, will inform discussions at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP); a meeting attended by, activists, governments, NGOs and UN agencies which will be held at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok, from 18 to 22 November.
The region as a whole has delivered a 9 per cent reduction in new HIV infections among newborns between 2010 and 2012. This reduction, while welcome, falls far short of global targets aimed at reducing new infections in every country by 90 per cent, and also illustrates the importance of the goal of treating at least 90 per cent of pregnant women who test positive for HIV. Testing rates for pregnant women rage from slightly more than half (53 per cent) in the Western Pacific down to some 21 per cent in Southeast Asia.
The region is also not meeting global target for treatment of those infected with the most effective anti-retroviral drugs, with some 43 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women in East Asia and the Pacific region receiving the drugs that have proven most effective for prevention of parent-to-child transmission of HIV. Across South Asia, the effective treatment rate for HIV-positive pregnant women is even lower -- around one per cent. Once born, many infants exposed to HIV are also diagnosed late. Of all infants born to mothers with HIV, only 2 per cent in South Asia and 30 per cent in East Asia and Pacific received the recommended virological test for HIV within two months of birth.
“We have the opportunity to raise an AIDS-free generation in Asia and the Pacific, ensuring no child is born with HIV, and that those children living with HIV have access to the treatment, care and support they need to remain alive and well,” said Dr Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “If we are to achieve an AIDS free generation in this region, much more attention will need to be paid to addressing the risks faced by children and adolescents, both at ICAAP and beyond.”
On Friday 22 November, during the conference, UNICEF will launch a joint report titled ‘Lost in Transitions: Current issues faced by adolescents living with HIV in Asia Pacific’. The report, which is authored by the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+) with UNICEF’s support, is the first report ever that specifically focusses on adolescence and HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, when they have to negotiate the change from childhood to adulthood, and this can affect their adherence to medication and access to treatment,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, the Director of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV. “The groups particularly at risk in this region include young gay and bisexual men, young intravenous drug users, and young sex workers.”
The report includes recommendations for actions governments might take to respond to the special needs of adolescents at risk.
Children and HIV
Even when a woman is living with HIV and is pregnant, with the right testing and the right drugs, it is possible to almost eliminate the risk of her passing the disease to her baby. Mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been virtually eliminated in high-income countries.
UNICEF is supporting countries in the transition to the new simplified life-long antiretroviral therapy (Option B+) for all pregnant women living with HIV. The new treatment is in the form of one pill, taken once a day (compared to up to six pills per day previously).
This treatment can be provided at community level at local primary care facilities. It also helps keeps mothers healthier, even after giving birth, provided they continue to receive the treatment. It is critical for women to continue antiretroviral treatment after giving birth, so they can breastfeed their babies safely.
Adolescents and HIV
The HIV epidemic in the 10 to 19 age group is driven mainly by unprotected sex and injecting drug use. The groups particularly at risk in this region include: young gay and bisexual men; young intravenous drug users; and young sex workers.
Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, when they have to negotiate the change from childhood to adulthood. Often young people with HIV have difficulties accessing treatment or adhering to their medication regime. Discrimination, poverty, inequalities, and harsh laws often prevent adolescents from seeking and receiving the testing, health care and support they desperately need.
‘Lost in Transitions’ has a number of recommendations for governments in the region to address these issues, covering data collection, provision of services, education and participation.
About ICAAP 11
The 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) is the largest forum on AIDS held in the Asia and the Pacific region. For over 20 years, ICAAP has played a critical role in raising public awareness, building political commitment, strengthening advocacy networks and disseminating knowledge and experiences on HIV issues among stakeholders in the region.
In addition to the report launch, UNICEF EAPRO and UNICEF Thailand are sponsoring and supporting several events, including a play by young people about living with HIV. There will also be a number of sessions to galvanize support to free children and adolescents of HIV, and to explore digital trends and innovations.
UNICEF will be live tweeting throughout the event @UnicefAsiaPac
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
Christopher de Bono