HIV and AIDS
Envisioning an AIDS-free generation where all children and their families are protected from HIV infection.
In the global effort to end HIV and AIDS, children and adolescents continue to fall behind. New cases of infection still occur at birth, during breastfeeding and in adolescence, and not enough children and adolescents living with HIV have access to testing and life-saving treatment. As a result, hundreds die every day.
A child was infected with HIV every two minutes in 2020.
The fight to overcome the epidemic is at a crossroads. Much has been achieved in the past few decades, saving millions of lives. But the health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and often widened inequities in the availability and quality of vital healthcare services.
Most new infections in children and adolescents occur in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of HIV and AIDS. To break the cycle of new infections and deaths, children, their mothers and adolescents must be tested for HIV and linked to treatment. A top priority for UNICEF is addressing structural factors – poverty, lack of education and violence – that put people, especially adolescent girls and young women, at risk of testing positive for HIV.
While the progress in HIV response has been promising, children continue to be affected by the epidemic.
- About 2.8 million children and adolescents are living with HIV, nearly 88 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa
- Only 54 per cent of infected children and adolescents were on HIV treatment as compared to 85 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV
- In 2020, at least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV, or one child every two minutes. That same year, 120,000 children and adolescents died from AIDS-related causes, or one child every five minutes
Treatment and prevention for children and adolescents are the two areas of UNICEF’s work to stop HIV infections and AIDS deaths. Making sustainable gains in this work requires increased commitment, better policies and more funds at the global, regional and national levels.
HIV affects genders, age groups and cultures in different ways, so programmes must be targeted depending on the context. What works for adolescent girls in a rural community is different from what works in a city, or from what works for adolescent boys or people who inject drugs.
The most effective, equitable and sustainable HIV-related interventions are those in which the human rights of HIV-affected communities are seen as fundamental priorities.
Without treatment, half the babies living with HIV will die before their second birthdays.
UNICEF is committed to ending AIDS by 2030, in line with global targets, and to making HIV services easier to access. We work in more than 190 countries and territories with a range of partners at all levels, from grassroots organizations to governments to global partners in HIV response.
Preventing new HIV infections and improving access to testing and treatment saves lives and are the pillars of UNICEF’s HIV response.
UNICEF’s HIV and AIDS programme
UNICEF’s core objective are eliminating mother-to-child transmission, preventing HIV in adolescents and young women and ensuring the timely initiation and retention of children and adolescents in treatment. Our programme focuses on these key areas:
- Mother-to-child transmission: Women living with HIV must have access to services to keep them alive and stop the transmission of HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. Continued support, testing and retesting mothers and their babies during these times can prevent transmission.
- Paediatric treatment and care: Without treatment, half the babies living with HIV will die before their second birthdays. Early testing in infants and immediate treatment is the top priority for babies exposed to HIV. However, some lab tests can take weeks for a mother to receive the result of her baby’s HIV status. UNICEF is scaling up point-of-care diagnostics throughout sub-Saharan Africa by which infants can now be tested and started off on treatment the same day. We are also working to locate, link and retain those children who did not receive early testing or continued treatment and care.
- New HIV infections in adolescents: UNICEF promotes a combination of biomedical, behavioural and structural interventions to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and boys. These innovative solutions include pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV self-testing, HIV sensitive protection services and mobile communication to improve access to treatment and care.
An inclusive HIV response
UNICEF has consistently sought to place children at the very heart of the global response to HIV. Since 2000, the number of new pediatric infections has decreased significantly, but this is the moment for the world to push on, rather than rest on its laurels.
To make sure that happens, UNICEF works with governments and global partners to leverage resources on behalf of children. At the same time, we are building partnerships with people living with and affected by HIV – especially mothers, children and adolescents.
The top five contributors to UNICEF’s HIV response are the Korean National Committee for UNICEF, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, SIDA-Sweden (partnership managed by the United Nations Populations Fund), Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF and the United States.
Not least of all, individual donors through national committees remain the backbone of UNICEF’s work throughout the world.
Despite some setbacks, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Tremendous progress has undeniably been made and many countries have show that it is possible to achieve sustained improvements in HIV responses and save millions of lives.