Some 320 children and adolescents died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018, or 13 every hour, according to a global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS released by the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday.
Low access to antiretroviral treatment, in addition to limited prevention efforts, is a leading cause for these deaths, with only 54 percent of children aged 0-14 living with HIV in 2018 – or 7,90,000 children – receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy, the Xinhua news agency reported.
“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.
“Neglecting testing and treatment initiatives for children and adolescents is a matter of life and death, and for them, we must choose life,” Fore added.
Regional disparities in access to treatment
Data shows deep regional disparities in access to treatment among children living with HIV.
Access is highest in South Asia, at 91 percent, followed by the Middle East and North Africa (73 percent), Eastern and Southern Africa (61 percent), East Asia and the Pacific (61 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (46 percent) and West and Central Africa (28 percent).
Mothers’ access to antiretroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies has increased globally, reaching 82 percent, up from 44 percent less than 10 years ago, according to the release.
However, disparities between regions persist, with Eastern and Southern Africa offering the highest rates of coverage (92 percent), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (79 percent), West and Central Africa (59 percent), South Asia (56 percent), East Asia and the Pacific (55 percent) and the Middle East and North Africa (53 percent).
“The cost of failing to test and treat every child at risk of HIV is one we measure in children’s lives and futures – a cost that no society can afford,” Fore said.
“HIV initiatives need to be fully funded and equipped to preserve, protect and improve the quality of life for children, in the first and second decades,” he said.
Additional data from the report include:
1. 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.
2. 89,000 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy or birth and 76,000 were infected during breastfeeding in 2018.
3. 140,000 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2018, compared to 50,000 adolescent boys.