Ahead of World AIDS Day, UN children's agency urges more investment, access to treatment

Posha, living with HIV, participated in the Option B+ programme, which provided antiretroviral tablets to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to infant during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Option B+ was developed by the Malawi Ministry of Health in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2013-1031/Marinovich

28 November 2014 – An estimated 1.1 million HIV infections among children under 15 have been averted, but disparity in access to treatment is hampering progress towards reaching a global goal of reducing new infections in children by 90 per cent, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today ahead of World AIDS Day.

New cases of HIV infections declined by more than 50 per cent between 2005 and 2013, as a result of expanding the access of millions of pregnant women living with HIV to services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, UNICEF said in a press release. These services include lifelong HIV treatment that markedly reduces the transmission of the virus to babies and keeps their mothers alive and well.

“If we can avert 1.1 million new HIV infections in children, we can protect every child from HIV – but only if we reach every child,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.

“We must close the gap, and invest more in reaching every mother, every newborn, every child and every adolescent with HIV prevention and treatment programmes that can save and improve their lives,” he added.

The agency stressed that the global goal of reducing new HIV infections in children by 90 per cent between 2009 and 2015 is still out of reach. In fact, in 2013 only 67 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV in all low- and middle-income countries received the most effective antiretroviral medicines for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Among people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries, adults are much more likely than children to get antiretroviral therapy, UNICEF noted. In 2013, 37 per cent of adults aged 15 and older received treatment, compared with only 23 per cent of children aged 0 to 14 – or less than 1 in 4.

The sharpest declines in new HIV infections among children took place between 2009 and 2013 in eight African countries: Malawi (67 per cent); Ethiopia (57 per cent); Zimbabwe (57 per cent); Botswana (57 per cent); Namibia (57 per cent); Mozambique (57 per cent); South Africa (52 per cent); and Ghana (50 per cent), according to UNICEF.

In addition, the agency emphasized that AIDS mortality trends for adolescents are also of significant concern. While all other age groups have experienced a decline of nearly 40 per cent in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013, adolescents aged 10 to 19 are the only age group in which AIDS-related deaths are not decreasing.

UNICEF's Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS provides the most recent analysis of global data on children and adolescents from birth to 19 years of age.

World AIDS Day, celebrated annually on 1 December, was launched in 1988 and was the first-ever global health day.

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