Warning that progress in HIV prevention and treatment has nearly flat lined over the past three years, a UNICEF analysis said that about 1,10,000 children and adolescents (0-19 years) died from AIDs-related causes during 2021.
About 3,10,000 were newly infected, bringing the total number of young people living with HIV to 2.7 million, said UNICEF global snapshot on children and HIV and AIDS.
Despite accounting for only 7 per cent of overall people living with HIV, children and adolescents comprised 17 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths, and 21 per cent of new HIV infections in 2021. Unless the drivers of inequities are addressed, UNICEF warns, ending AIDS in children and adolescents will continue to be a distant dream.
Ahead of World AIDS Day, UNICEF Associate Chief of HIV/AIDS Anurita Bains said, “though children have long lagged behind adults in the AIDS response, the stagnation seen in the last three years is unprecedented, putting too many young lives at risk of sickness and death,” said U. “Children are falling through the cracks because we are collectively failing to find and test them and get them on life-saving treatment. Every day that goes by without progress, over 300 children and adolescents lose their fight against AIDS.”
However, the UNICEF said that new HIV infections among younger children (0-14 years) dropped by 52 per cent from 2010 to 2021, and new infections among adolescents (15-19 years) also dropped by 40 per cent. Similarly, coverage of lifelong antiretroviral treatment (ART) among pregnant women living with HIV increased from 46 per cent to 81 per cent in a single decade.
While the total number of children living with HIV is on the decline, the UN Organisation said that treatment gap between children and adults continued to grow. “ART coverage for children stood at 56 per cent in 2020 but fell to 54 per cent in 2021. This decline is due to several factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and other global crises, which have increased marginalisation and poverty, but is also a reflection of waning political will and a flagging AIDS response in children,” the UNICEF said. Globally, an even lower percentage of children living with HIV had access to treatment (52%), which has only marginally increased over the past few years, the report said.
Meanwhile, coverage among all adults living with HIV (76%) was more than 20 percentage points higher than among children. The gap was even larger between children and pregnant women living with HIV (81%). Alarmingly, the percentage of children between the ages of 0-4 years living with HIV and not on ART has been rising over the past seven years, climbing to 72 per cent in 2021, as high as it was in 2012.
Many regions – Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, Eastern and Southern Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and West and Central Africa – experienced drops in treatment coverage in pregnant and breastfeeding women during 2020, with Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa seeing further declines in 2021. Except for West and Central Africa, which continues to see the highest burden of mother-to-child transmission, none of the aforementioned regions have recovered to the coverage levels achieved in 2019. These disruptions put the lives of newborn babies at increased risk. In 2021, more than 75,000 new child infections occurred because pregnant women were not diagnosed and initiated on treatment.
“With renewed political commitment to reaching the most vulnerable, strategic partnership and resources to scale up programmes, we can end AIDS in children, adolescents and pregnant women,” said Bains.
On 1 December, World AIDS Day 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on global leaders and citizens to boldly recognize and address the inequalities that are holding back progress in attaining the global goal to end AIDS by 2030.
“With global solidarity and bold leadership, we can make sure everyone receives the care they need,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “World AIDS Day is an opportunity to re-affirm and refocus on our shared commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.”
UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous said “this World AIDS Day, I call upon all stakeholders to accelerate their work towards meeting both Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and SDG 3 on health and well-being. The current rates of HIV infections among young women demonstrates how closely these two goals are are interlinked, and how pressing it is to achieve both. I further urge stakeholders to deliver on the commitments made to Generation Equality, specifically those made to the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and to invest in feminist and youth-led HIV movements.”