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UNICEF: More Funds Needed to Fight Teen HIV

  • Jessica Berman

Young people play an “HIV knowledge” board game at an event to promote sexual and reproductive health among adolescents supported by the China Center for Health Education and UNICEF China.

Young people play an “HIV knowledge” board game at an event to promote sexual and reproductive health among adolescents supported by the China Center for Health Education and UNICEF China.

The U.N. Children’s Fund predicts a 60 percent rise in the number of HIV-positive adolescents by 2030, unless there’s an increase in funding to fight it.

According to a new UNICEF report, the authors estimate the number of new infections could grow from a quarter million in 2015 to 400,000 in fewer than 15 years.

The report said that an estimated 1.8 million adolescents, ages 10-19, are living with HIV, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

On this World AIDS Day, UNICEF is urging continued progress toward prevention of HIV in adolescents.

Peer Health Educators gather at a World Aids Day Ceremony at American University in Dubai, Jan. 25, 2016.

Peer Health Educators gather at a World Aids Day Ceremony at American University in Dubai, Jan. 25, 2016.

Young females vulnerable

Vivian Lopez, an HIV program specialist with the U.N. agency, said young women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

“In Africa, we have three out of four new infections among adolescent girls in the 15 to 19 age range. And how that can also translate (is) into young women who become pregnant. And then we have a cycle of children becoming newly infected,” Lopez said.

The rate of new infections among females is high, Lopez said, because their first sexual experience is often rape.

In its report, UNICEF proposes strategies for accelerating progress in preventing HIV among adolescents and treating those who are already infected, such as:

  • Investing in innovation, including locally created solutions
  • Strengthening data collection
  • Ending gender discrimination, including gender-based violence and countering stigma
  • Prioritizing efforts to address adolescents’ vulnerabilities through a combination of prevention efforts, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, cash transfers and comprehensive sexuality education.

Lopez said AIDS is the leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds. She said only half of adolescents with HIV are now on life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

Every two minutes, an adolescent becomes infected with HIV, according to UNICEF.

The report had a number of other findings:

  • 1.6 million infections among children were averted between 2000 and 2015
  • 1.1 million children, adolescents and women were newly infected in 2015
  • Children ages 0-4 living with HIV face the highest risk of AIDS-related deaths compared with all other age groups.

There’s a gap in diagnosis among children and adolescents because they are hard to identify if their HIV-infected mothers are not found, Lopez said.

“So it’s really a matter of health systems finding new ways of tracking mothers living with HIV and then testing families to see if there are any children living with HIV that can be put on treatment which is life-saving these days,” she said.

Funds are lost

Lopez said funds through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, have been crucial in getting treatment to adults and children living with HIV; but, she’s worried that donor organizations are pulling back their support; so far $1 billion has been lost.

Lopez says a significant boost in funding from countries and organizations is needed to help young people in affected countries.

“We really need to not only maintain our efforts, but double our efforts in the response to adolescents and HIV and curb this epidemic immediately.”

The international agency concluded tremendous progress has been made in efforts to curb HIV transmission around the globe, and now is not the time to pull back.

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