ISLAMABAD, Nov 30 (APP): Some 320 children and adolescents died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018, says UNICEF’s annual statistical update on children, HIV and AIDS, released ahead of the World AIDS Day – Sunday, 1 December 2019.
Low access to anti-retroviral treatment, in addition to limited prevention efforts, is a leading cause for these deaths, with only 54 per cent of children aged 0-14 living with HIV in 2018 or 790,000 children receiving lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy, said a press release.
“The world is on the cusp of making great gains in the battle against HIV and AIDS, but we must not rest on the laurels of progress made,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
He said, “Neglecting testing and treatment initiatives for children and adolescents is a matter of life and death, and for them, we must choose life.”
In Pakistan, a joint United Nations team led the investigation into the HIV outbreak earlier this year in Larkana district of Sindh. Unsafe injection practices were identified as the main cause of the outbreak.
Since then, around 37,000 people have been tested and 1,158 were found infected. Unfortunately, 80 per cent of the infected are children under 13 year of age.
“Supporting the Sindh government’s response to the HIV outbreak, UNICEF has established two Paediatric HIV Centres in Larkana district for providing care and support to the infected children,” says Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan. “Besides capacity building of the medical staff, UNICEF is also renovating the existing infrastructure and providing supplies and equipment.”
“We are also working at community level to raise awareness regarding modes of transmission of HIV and advising people to seek scanning and treatment services at the HIV Centres.”
Data from the UNICEF report reflects deep regional disparities in access to treatment among children living with HIV. Compared to other regions of the world, access is highest in South Asia, at 91 per cent.
According to the report, mothers’ access to antiretroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies has increased globally, reaching 82 per cent, up from 44 per cent less than 10 years ago. However, disparities between regions persist.
“While we still have a long way to go, giving more and more pregnant women antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission has helped avert about 2 million new HIV infections and prevented the deaths of over 1 million children under five years old,” Fore said. “We need to see similar progress in paediatric treatment.
Closing this gap between children and their mothers could significantly increase the life expectancy and quality of life of children infected with HIV.”
In 2018, around 160,000 children aged 0-9 were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 1.1 million.
89,000 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy or birth and 76,000 were infected during breastfeeding in 2018.
140,000 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2018, compared to 50,000 adolescent boys.
To end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat for future generations, UNICEF is urging governments and partners to.
Improve HIV testing and treatment data for children and adolescents to better respond to the needs of this vulnerable population.
Invest in and implement effective and innovative interventions to urgently close the persistent testing and treatment gap for children and adolescents living with HIV.