Seventy-two percent of new HIV/Aids infections in South Africa and globally have been detected in adolescent girls.
This is according to Dr Chewe Luo, chief of the HIV/Aids section at Unicef, who spoke at the launch of the latest global statistical data on children and HIV/Aids to mark World Aids Day.
“When you look at the figures, you have almost three times as many infections in adolescent girls as you have in boys,” she said.
Unicef also noted that despite many women being treated and having access to treatment, that was not the case when it comes to children.
“Eighty-two percent of mothers have access, 62% of adults have access, but [only] 54% of children. And we ask the question why children are left behind?” Luo said.
The organisation believes that governments in different regions need to improve HIV testing and treatment data for children to be able to respond to the needs of those living with the epidemic.
It also believes that governments should invest in innovative interventions that will enable closing the gap for children living with the disease when it comes to persistent testing and treatment.
Unicef’s data showed that more than 95% of pregnant women living with HIV/Aids and 60% of children in South Africa have been able to access anti-retroviral treatment.
“What is different in South Africa? If you ask the question why we are not getting there, in South Africa, even 5% not accessing (treatment), because of the prevalence and population, translates to a number of new infections in children. I know Mr Aaron Motsoeledi (the former health minister) was championing this. How do you find that 5% who are not accessing treatment in South Africa? ” Luo asked.
She added that what was important to note was that as long as South Africa has the prevalence it has, as well as incident infections, especially in children and adolescents, there needs to be more concerted action around primary prevention.
The report stated that there were around 160,000 children, aged between 0-9-years, who were newly infected with HIV in 2018.
The figures also showed that 320 children and adolescents died every day from Aids-related causes during 2018, and 13 every hour. It said the report’s data was according to the global snapshot on the epidemic, specifically on children on the African continent.
In most cases, limited access to anti-retroviral treatment and prevention efforts lead to these deaths.
Unicef’s data showed grave regional disparities when it comes to access to treatment among children living with the epidemic. It outlined that access was highest in South Asia, which recorded 91%, the Middle East and North Africa with 73%,and Eastern and Southern Africa at 61%.
East Asia and the Pacific are at 61% when it comes to access to treatment, while Latin and Caribbean are at 46% and West and Central Africa at 28%.
Luo also said while different regions had come a long way in preventing mother-to-child transmission, they were nowhere near to completely eliminating it. She said this was because regional differences made it difficult.
She added that data also showed that there were many more adolescent children living with HIV/Aids.
“It means that our children are growing, the ones that could have been infected during pregnancy, delivery or during breastfeeding. But it also means we need to do something about new infections in the adolescent age groups,” Luo highlighted.