Geneva, Jul 22 (UNNEW) – There is great inequality in access to HIV prevention and treatment services for children and the race to eradicate childhood AIDS, and among adolescent girls and young women has stalled, warns the Final report of the “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free” initiative, produced by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) and its partners.
According to the document, in 2020, 46% of the 1.7 million children living with HIV in the world were not in treatment, 150,000 more were infected, and early diagnoses in infants and young children dropped considerably.
In summary, the study emphasizes, none of the goals set for 2020 were met, including a maximum increase of 40,000 new infections.
UNAIDS indicated that more than a third of babies born to mothers with HIV were not tested and recalled that, without treatment, about 50% of HIV-positive children die before the age of two.
The UNAIDS Deputy Director said that more than 20 years ago, initiatives for families and children were launched in order to prevent vertical transmission and prevent child deaths from AIDS, a strategy that became part of the global response to the epidemic.
The children are left behind
“This was possible thanks to an unprecedented activation of all partners; however, even though there have been important advances and having more tools and knowledge than ever before, children are lagging behind adults and well below our goals, ”lamented Shannon Hader.
He explained that children are about 40% less likely than adults to receive treatment (54% versus 74%), and that they account for a disproportionate number of deaths from AIDS: only 5% of people with HIV are children, but they constitute 15% of deaths.
“We are talking about the right of children to health and a healthy life, its value in our societies. It is time to reactivate ourselves on all fronts: we need the leadership, activism and investments to do the right thing, ”Hader stressed.
A five-year plan
The “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free” initiative was a five-year plan that began in 2015 with the goals of ensuring that all children’s lives began without HIV and remained so through adolescence, and that all HIV-positive minors had access to antiretroviral therapy.
The strategy focused on 23 countries, 21 of them in Africa, which accounted for 83% of HIV-positive pregnant women, 80% of children with the virus and 78% of young women aged 15-24 years infected.
Despite not meeting the 2020 targets, the 21 African countries in the initiative made more progress than countries outside of it. For example, their new infections decreased 24% from the global average of 20% and managed to treat 89% of pregnant HIV-positive women, compared to the global average of 85% (although below the 95% goal). .
UNAIDS clarified, however, that there are great disparities between these 21 countries, which still represent the greatest burden of the disease and eleven of them account for almost 70% of children with HIV without treatment.
The report’s authors trusted the publication to serve as an urgent call to action to rid children of AIDS.
In this sense, they explained that mother-to-child transmission requires innovative approaches that support women throughout the life cycle, which includes primary prevention and access to reproductive health, especially in the case of adolescents and young women.
How to do it?
To end new HIV infections, the study outlines three measures:
- Reach pregnant women with testing and treatment as soon as possible as 66,000 new HIV infections occurred among children because their mothers received no treatment during pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Ensure continuity of treatment and viral suppression during pregnancy, lactation, and for life. An estimated 38,000 children became infected with HIV because their mothers did not continue to receive care during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Prevent new infections among pregnant and lactating women. New infections among children due to the mother contracting HIV during pregnancy or breastfeeding totaled 35,000
UNAIDS reported progress in preventing infections among adolescents and young women. In the initiative countries, the number decreased by 27% from 2015 to 2020, but reached 200,000 in the 21 selected African countries, double the global target for 2020.
Vulnerability and abandonment
In addition, COVID-19 and the closure of schools have interrupted many educational and sexual and reproductive health services for girls, adolescents and young women, making it imperative to redouble prevention efforts among these groups.
“The lives of the most vulnerable girls and young women hang by a thread, locked in deep-seated cycles of vulnerability and neglect that must be broken once and for all,” said Chewe Luo, Associate Director for Health and HIV at the United Nations Fund. United for Children (UNICEF).
She added that there is the necessary knowledge to advance rapidly among girls and young women. “What it takes is the courage to apply the solutions and the discipline to implement them rigorously,” Luo said.
UNAIDS and its partners committed to continue working together to develop new frameworks to address the unfinished agenda. In addition, in the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV / AIDS, United Nations Member States officially adopted as new targets for 2025 ending inequalities and ending AIDS by 2030, providing a roadmap for the next five years.