An AIDS-free generation is closer than ever
By UNICEF Representative in Moldova, Nune Mangasaryan
Imagine a world where all children are born free of HIV, and where those who are living with HIV get the treatment and care they need. Imagine a world where all children can grow up to fulfil their potential without AIDS. That dream is within reach.
UNICEF’s ‘Children and AIDS: The Sixth Stocktaking’ report shows that more than 850,000 new infections among children (0-14 years old) were averted between 2005 and 2012 in low- and middle-income countries. This achievement was due to global and national efforts to make treatment and other services available for pregnant women living with HIV. Mother to child transmission of HIV has been virtually eliminated in high-income countries, and the means to do this in low- and middle-income countries exists. Globally, some 260,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2012, compared to 540,000 in 2005, which shows a progress.
In spite of many efforts over the last decade the incidence of HIV/AIDS among the general population and young people in Moldova has been growing. Although the incidence among youth aged between 15 and 24 years old remained relatively stable in 2011 and 2012 (18, 5 cases per 100,000 population), the indicators are far from the national target set under the Millennium Development Goals (11.0 per 100,000 population in 2015).* HIV positive pregnant women have universal access to free antiretroviral treatment in Moldova but there are still registered HIV positive children as a result of mother-to-child transmission. Therefore additional efforts are necessary to strengthen prevention measures.
Despite the progress made in low- and middle-income countries, only 34 per cent of children receive the treatment they need for HIV, while 64 per cent of adults are treated. And almost 600 children died from AIDS-related causes every day in 2012, although these deaths were preventable.
Adolescent AIDS-related deaths increased by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012, while global AIDS-related deaths fell by 30 per cent. Adolescents are the only age group in which AIDs-related deaths have increased, despite promising signs of behaviour change, in terms of increase in using condoms and delaying sexual debut. This age group is too often overlooked in the overall response to HIV, both at national and at global levels.
If we are to capitalise on the impressive progress made in the first decade of life, serious work remains: To bring the number of new infant infections to zero, women and girls need access to contraception, including condoms, to protect themselves from acquiring HIV and to have greater control over their sexual health and family planning.
Those living with the virus need antiretroviral medicines to stay healthy and to avoid passing HIV to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
Stories such as the following give hope.
Irina** is a healthy one-year-old in Balti, Moldova, because her mother received antiretroviral treatment. Tamara***, age 23 years, contracted HIV when she was a teenager. She faced stigma and discrimination. “I felt depressed and had the feeling that nobody cared,” Tamara recalled.
But Tamara’s life changed for the better. At Youth Friendly Health Clinic “ATIS” from Balti, a health facility for young people, supported by UNICEF, she found safety, acceptance and medical care for herself and her children, as well as counselling and peer support. Tamara has been living with HIV for eight years but she is healthy and her children are both HIV-negative.
Access to testing, counselling and treatment must be made available through adolescent-friendly programmes that take into account young people’s needs and offer them a protective and safe environment.
Without adequate attention to the needs of adolescents, there can be no AIDS-free generation.
For the first time in history, the world has the knowledge, the experience and the tools to create an AIDS-free generation. The challenge is to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized children, adolescents and women, through increased and targeted investments, innovative approaches, changing attitudes and new ways of working.
Now is the time to make the dream of an AIDS-free generation a reality for every child.
* Source: The Third Millenium Development Goals Report, Republic of Moldova, 2013.
** Name has been changed to protect identity.
*** Name has been changed to protect identity.