Sub-Saharan Africa home to 88% of HIV-infected children

03 December 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES



WINDHOEK

Around 88% of all children with HIV in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa, where infection rates are driven by inadequate access to high-quality HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

This according to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) 2021 World Aids Day report, titled ‘Stolen Childhood, Lost Adolescents’, which said the number of children and adolescents aged between zero and 19 living with HIV in Namibia is estimated between 15 000 and 18 000.

It is further estimated that the number of children and adolescents living with HIV in southern and eastern Africa alone stands at around 2.3 million.

During his keynote address on World Aids Day, health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said one of the challenges Namibia has faced over the years relates to achieving its targets among children living with the virus.

According to him, one of the factors adding to these challenges is the limited range of paediatric Anti-Retroviral – Treatment (ART) formulations, and poor adherence.

“In order to address these gaps, the ministry has started transitioning eligible children on ART to the new paediatric Dolutegravir-based formulation, which is currently the most effective ARV medicine available in the world. In addition, the ministry has introduced a programme called the Namibia Adolescent Treatment Support, which is a peer-led intervention to support treatment, care and adherence to medication amongst children living with HIV,” he said.

Lagging

Unicef further reported that none of the 2020 global targets for HIV treatment and prevention - agreed on by the General Assembly in the 2016 Political Declaration on Ending AIDS - were reached, making specific mention to those involving children, adolescents and pregnant mothers.

Globally, adolescent girls accounted for over 77% of all new HIV infections in 2020, yet in sub-Saharan Africa, almost six times as many adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 were newly infected with HIV than boys of the same age.

The report highlighted that this disproportionate impact on girls reflects deeply rooted inequalities and biases in cultural, social and economic structures that reduce girls’ access to information, services and opportunities.

It is also reported that, globally, children under 15 account for about 5% of all people living with HIV, 10% of new HIV infections and 15% of all AIDS-related deaths.

In addition, the number of children aged zero to nine who newly acquired HIV in 2020 was 160 000 – more than eight times the 2020 target of fewer than 20 000 new infections for children in this age group.

Ageing out

“Increasingly, children on ART are ‘ageing out’ and surviving into adolescence. In 2020, 136 000 children living with HIV globally reached the age of 15. These adolescents need access to tailored services to facilitate their transition to adult treatment programmes. Nowhere is this more important than in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of surviving adolescents live, with 70% in eastern and southern Africa and 20% in west and central Africa,” the report stated.

It added that in 2020, 460 000 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 were newly infected with HIV and, of this number, 160 000 were between of 10 and 19, with 77% adolescent girls and the vast majority from sub-Saharan Africa.

The Unicef report also pointed out that it was a challenge to expand HIV testing for adolescents, and as such, only 25% of girls and 17% of boys aged 15 to 19 in eastern and southern Africa received their most recent test results last year.

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