More than 850,000 infants saved from HIV since 2005, but alarming trends seen among adolescents
A new report released today by UNICEF shows great progress has been made to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, with more than 850,000 new childhood infections averted between 2005 and 2012 in low- and middle-income countries.
However, the new 2013 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS raises the alarm on adolescents, citing the need for increased global and national efforts to address HIV and AIDS among this vulnerable age group.
AIDS-related deaths amongst adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 increased by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012, rising from 71,000 to 110,000, in stark contrast to progress made in preventing mother-to-child transmission. There were approximately 2.1 million adolescents are living with HIV in 2012.
“If high-impact interventions are scaled up using an integrated approach, we can halve the number of new infections among adolescents by 2020,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “It’s a matter of reaching the most vulnerable adolescents with effective programmes – urgently.”
High-impact interventions include condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision, communications for behaviour change, and targeted approaches for at-risk and marginalized populations.
In Europe, at least one in three of the 2.3 million people living with HIV are unaware that they are HIV positive. Many of the new infections derive from people living with HIV who are not yet diagnosed and therefore unaware of the possible risk of transmission. And adolescents are at the heart of this challenge.
Ukraine is suffering from one of Europe's worst AIDS epidemics. Young people aged 15-24 are disproportionately affected; compared to their counterparts in Western and Central Europe, Ukrainian young women are three times more likely to be infected with HIV, and young men twice as likely.
Levels of HIV-related knowledge among youth in Ukraine are low. The recent UNICEF research found that only 17 per cent of adolescents rightly identified the ways of HIV transmission. Those who live in social protection institutions tend to have lower levels of accurate knowledge, but higher rates of sexual risk behaviour. Furthermore, there are high levels of HIV-related stigma among schoolchildren and their parents: just 41 per cent of schoolchildren reported that they would agree to have HIV-infected peers in their class and 22 per cent of parents approved of contact with HIV-positive children on a daily basis. Attitudes within the educational environment are only likely to change if discrimination reduces more broadly in society, something that has been highlighted as a priority by many assessments of the national situation.
"The figures on HIV-related knowledge among adolescents in Ukraine are alarming, indeed,” confirms UNICEF Ukraine Representative in Ukraine Yukie Mokuo. “With EU support, UNICEF cooperates with partners to make it easier for adolescents to talk about HIV and take a test to find out their HIV status,” she added. In contrast to adolescents, global progress has been impressive in the area of preventing new HIV infections among infants. Some 260,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2012, compared to 540,000 in 2005.
Ukraine has reached a noticeable progress in preventing new HIV infections among infants. The rate of HIV transmission from mother to child decreased from 20 % in 2000 to 4,9 % in 2009 in Ukraine. According to official statistics of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, between 1995 and 2012, 32 504 children were born to HIV-positive mothers. 21 916 of them are HIV-free, with the other 6 735 babies up to 18 months old are waiting for confirmation of their status. 2 814 of these children are HIV-positive, 752 of them have AIDS, and 287 have died from AIDS-provoked diseases.
“This new UNICEF report reminds us that an AIDS-free generation is possible. Every child has the right to be born free of HIV and remain so–from birth and throughout their lives in Ukraine and any other country in the world,” said Yukie Mokuo. “These days, even if a pregnant woman is living with HIV, it doesn’t mean her baby must have the same fate. Innovations are making testing and treatment more effective and accessible,” emphasized Yukie Mokuo.
The new report also emphasizes that for an AIDS-free generation to become a reality, more children living with HIV should receive antiretroviral treatment. Only 34 per cent of children living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received the treatment they needed in 2012, compared to 64 per cent of adults. As a result, an estimated 210,000 children died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2012.
“The world now has the experience and the tools to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Children should be the first to benefit from our successes in defeating HIV, and the last to suffer when we fall short,” said Anthony Lake.
The report will be available at www.childrenandaids.org
About the Stocktaking Reports: