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For every child, end AIDS

The second decade of life

© UNICEF/ HQ06-1500/Pirozzi
Youth leaders stand in a circle, holding hands, to symbolize the slogan ‘We can do it together’, at a child care centre that supports AIDS-affected children in Manila, Philippines.

The facts

In 2015:

  • Of the 670,000 young people (ages 15-24) who were newly infected with HIV, 250,000 were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19.1
  • Only 13% of adolescent girls and 9% of adolescent boys between the ages of 15-19 in sub-Saharan Africa were tested for HIV and received the test results in the past 12 months.1
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 3 in 4 new infections in 15-19 year olds are among girls.1
  • The number of adolescents living with HIV has increased by 28% since 2005.2
  • The population of 10-24 year olds is projected to rise to more than ¾ of a billion in Africa. Therefore, HIV infections among adolescents is anticipated to increase even if the current reduction in HIV incidence rate is maintained.2
  • Globally, treatment and care responses for adolescents have lagged significantly behind paediatric and adult treatment programmes. 
  • Lack of access to testing, treatment and counselling has contributed to the continued rise in AIDS-related deaths among adolescents, a pattern unique to this age group.
  • Sexual transmission and injection drug use continue to be the main modes of transmission among adolescents.

1UNICEF Data: Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women, Dec. 2016
2For Every Child, End AIDS: Seventh Stocktaking Report, 2016

What is the response?

A mix of interventions can lower HIV transmission risk, morbidity and mortality among adolescents. These include the use of male and female condoms; voluntary medical male circumcision; prevention of mother-to-child transmission; antiretroviral treatment; targeted approaches for key affected populations such as needle and syringe exchange programmes and; communication for social and behavioural change.

HIV prevalence is highest in certain groups of adolescents and yet the same groups of adolescents whose behaviours are often taboo, stigmatized, and/or illegal, face a multitude of barriers limiting their access and ability to use key interventions for HIV prevention, treatment, and care. HIV prevalence among young women remains higher in comparison to young men throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In order to reduce the HIV epidemic among adolescents, a strategic approach targeting adolescents at greatest risk and ensuring scale up of high-impact interventions for adolescents is therefore essential. Efforts to address sexual exploitation and forced sex, HIV education, and transition into adult care are also critical.

By encouraging and supporting the active involvement and leadership of adolescents- including those living with HIV, in the fight against the epidemic at the local, national and global levels, we can ensure that HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes among adolescents are adolescent-specific and better tailored to their needs and behaviours.

What is UNICEF doing?

UNICEF supports countries to advocate for and implement high-impact HIV prevention, treatment, and care for adolescents (10-19 years).  Particular emphasis is paid to strengthening planning, service delivery and monitoring of the following basic programmes: condoms and HIV testing and counseling including through Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT); treatment, harm reduction for adolescents who use drugs and; medical male (including early infant) circumcision in countries with high HIV prevalence. 

In addition, by leveraging synergies with other critical health and development programmes, UNICEF contributes to empowering adolescents and reducing their vulnerability. This entails for example extending the benefits of social protection programmes to adolescents affected by HIV; addressing gender-based violence and gender inequalities; supporting equitable quality education including comprehensive HIV knowledge and sexuality education; advocating for human rights; easily transitioning adolescents into adult HIV care, and promoting enabling laws and policies.

UNICEF prioritizes three groups of adolescents at higher risk of HIV exposure.  These include adolescent girls in generalized epidemics as well as adolescents living with HIV and adolescent key populations (e.g. adolescent boys who have sex with other males, adolescents who use drugs and adolescents who are sexually exploited by or engaged in commercial sex) in all epidemic typologies.



Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free Targets

           Start Free

  • Reduce newly infected children to <40,000 by 2018 and <20,000 by 2020
  • Reach and Sustain 95% of pregnant women living with HIV with lifelong HIV treatment by 2018

          Stay Free

  • Reduce the number of new HIV infections among adolescents and young women to <100,000 by 2020
  • Provide voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention to 25 million additional men by 2020, including 11 million in the geographic areas of highest HIV burden, with a focus on men aged 15-29

          AIDS Free

  • Have 1.6 million children aged 0-14 and 1.2 million adolescents aged 15 - 19 living with HIV on lifelong ART by 2018
  • Have 1.4 million children aged 0-14 and 1 million adolescents aged 15 - 19 with HIV on lifelong ART by 2020


Especially Vulnerable Adolescents

‘Especially vulnerable’ adolescents are often the sexual partners of individuals who inject drugs or individuals involved in sex work. They may be physically or mentally disabled, mobile or displaced, ethnic minorities, out-of-school, or live in rural areas.

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