Harare – The latest statistics show that progress towards ending AIDS among children, adolescents and young women has stalled and no major international targets to this end were met in 2020.
This has been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures.
Statistics from Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free Initiative and UNAIDS show that opportunities to identify infants and young children living with HIV early were being missed.
More than a third of children born to women living with HIV were not tested. Almost half (46 percent) of the world’s 1.7 million children living with HIV were not on treatment in 2020, and 150,000 were newly infected with HIV – four times more than the 2020 target of 40,000.
The total number of children on treatment declined, despite the fact that nearly 800,000 children living with HIV are not currently on treatment.
UNAIDS Deputy Executive director Dr Shannon Hader said there were stark inequalities in access to HIV prevention and treatment services for children living with HIV.
“Over 20 years ago, initiatives for families and children to prevent vertical transmission and to eliminate children dying of AIDS truly kick-started what has now become our global AIDS response. This stemmed from an unprecedented activation of all partners, yet, despite early and dramatic progress, despite more tools and knowledge than ever before, children are falling way behind adults and way behind our goals,” Dr Hader said.
“The inequalities are striking—children are nearly 40 percent less likely than adults to be on life-saving treatment (54 percent of children versus 74 percent of adults), and account for a disproportionate number of deaths (five percent of all people living with HIV are children, but children account for 15 percent of all AIDS-related deaths).
“This is about children’s right to health and healthy lives, their value in our societies. It’s time to reactivate on all fronts—we need the leadership, activism, and investments to do what’s right for kids.”
World Health Organisation assistant director-general Dr Ren Minghui said more political will was needed to achieve an HIV-free generation.
“The HIV community has a long history of tackling unprecedented challenges, today we need that same energy and perseverance to address the needs of the most vulnerable — our children. African leaders have the power to help us change the pace of care and should act and lead until no child living with HIV is left behind,” Dr Minghui said
UNAIDS outlined three actions necessary to end new HIV infections among children.
First was to reach pregnant women with testing and treatment as 66,000 new HIV infections occurred among children because their mothers did not receive treatment at all during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Second was to ensure continuity of treatment and viral suppression during pregnancy, breastfeeding and for life as 38,000 children became newly infected because their mothers were not continued in care during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Third was to prevent new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding women as 35,000 new infections among children occurred because women became newly infected with HIV during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
If untreated, around 50 percent of children living with HIV die before their second birthday.