A child was infected with HIV every two minutes in 2020 – UNICEF

A prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic, UNICEF warns Ahead of World AIDS Day

01 December 2021
A patient receiving HIV medication

Lilongwe/New York - At least 300,000 children across the globe were newly infected with HIV in 2020, or one child every two minutes, according to a new UNICEF report. Another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period, or one child every five minutes.

The latest HIV and AIDS Global Snapshot warns that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic, putting vulnerable children, adolescents, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk of missing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

“The HIV epidemic enters its fifth decade amid a global pandemic that has overloaded health care systems and constrained access to life-saving services. Meanwhile, rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Unless we ramp up efforts to resolve the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic, which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS.”

In Malawi, at least 2300 children were newly infected with HIV in 2020 while 25 per cent of children living with HIV do not know their status, and just over half of children with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment (2021 HIV estimates).

COVID19 preventive measures, including closure of schools contributed to increased infection rates due to spikes in gender-based violence, limited access to follow-up care, and stockouts of key commodities. Malawi also experienced reductions in health facility deliveries, maternal HIV testing and antiretroviral HIV treatment initiation.

In 2020, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 89 per cent of new HIV paediatric infections and 88 per cent of children and adolescents living with HIV worldwide, with adolescent girls six times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys. Some 88 per cent of AIDS-related child deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Building back better in a post-pandemic world must include HIV responses that are evidence-based, people-centred, resilient, sustainable and, above all, equitable,” said Fore. “To close the gaps, these initiatives must be delivered through a reinforced health care system and meaningful engagement of all affected communities, especially the most vulnerable.”


Notes to editors:

Read the report here.

Download multimedia content here

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