Despite massive efforts to stem the spread of the HIV virus, a report released by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that the number of AIDS related adolescent deaths has tripled in the past 15 years. The majority of deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The only HIV infected group for which mortality figures are not decreasing are adolescents with two million adolescents aged between 15 and 19 living with AIDS.
The study found that 26 adolescents are infected every hour with the HIV virus, and only one in 10 adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are tested for HIV.
Girls account for seven of 10 new infections among those aged 15 to 19 years old.
Many of the adolescents who die of AIDS-related illnesses were infected with HIV as infants during a period when fewer pregnant women and mothers with the virus received antiretroviral transmission prevention medications. Some of those children have survived into their teens, sometimes not even knowing their HIV status.
UNICEF’s global HIV/AIDS program chief Craig McClure says, “It is critical that young people who are HIV-positive have access to treatment, care and support. At the same time, those who are HIV-negative must have access to the knowledge and means to help them to stay that way.”
He adds that although “the gains we have made on preventing mother-to-child transmission are laudable and to be celebrated,” immediate “investments are needed to get lifesaving treatment to children and adolescents who are infected.”
Half of the world’s HIV infected adolescents live in just six countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique and India. One of the countries where infections will continue to rise is Uganda, where already 1.5 million people are living with HIV.
While visiting the country this weekend, Pope Francis met with young people living with the virus. Although not offering up any solutions to the AIDS problem, he encouraged those with HIV and AIDS to “never give up hope”.
At the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, taking place in Harare, Zimbabwe, doctors, researchers and scientists from nearly 150 countries are discussing new recommendations aimed at a faster and more efficient treatment of HIV. These include the use of antiretroviral drugs for treatment and prevention.
AIDS is not only the number one cause of death among adolescents in Africa, but the second leading cause of adolescent deaths globally.